Herman Melville Essay, Research Paper
Portrayed through the characters of his novella Billy Budd, Herman Melville reveals his feelings on society; he believes justice should prevail over evil, however, evil overcomes goodness and innocence. Each character defines a specific characteristic of society. Billy Budd represents goodness and innocence, Dansker represents wisdom, knowledge and understanding, Claggart represents evil, and finally Captain Vere, who portrays order and society as a whole. Each character significantly attributes one aspect of the unjust society, which Melville believes we all live in.
Billy Budd, the main character of this short story, is molded into a character that possesses all admirable qualities; he represents goodness, innocence, honesty, and an overall well-rounded individual. Billy Budd is the goodness in a society. he showed in face that humane look of reposeful good nature which the Greek sculptor in some instances gave to his heroic strong man, Hercules (pg. 17)., We may say that Billy Budd is a vision of man in society, a vision of man s moral quandary or his responsibility I find the work not an essay on a moral issue but a form for embodying the feeling and idea of thinking about a moral issue . Billy Budd was well liked by the other sailors on the Indomitable, and many respected him because he was a true hard worker. Billy Budd also represents the innocence of a society. he possessed that kind and degree of intelligence going along with the unconventional rectitude of a sound human creature, one to whom not yet has been proffered the questionable apple of knowledge (pg. 18). This important character is ironically persecuted for killing another seaman, one who falsely accused him of conjuring up a plan which would lead to mutiny. These false accusations would have taken the life of innocent Billy Budd, so Budd angrily punched the accuser, Claggart, in the face, subsequently killing him. As in society, Billy Budd was punished for his honesty. He had done nothing wrong, yet evil, represented by Claggart, overcame goodness, Billy Budd, and Billy was hung. Justice did not prevail.
Melville also creates a character, Dansker, who represents the wisdom, knowledge, and understanding of a society. Dansker is a veteran of the Indomitable, and has much experience under his belt. Billy Budd feels that …[Dansker] might be the sort of person to go to for wise council (pg. 34). Many people respect this man, especially Billy Budd, never passing the old Agamemnon-man without a salutation marked by that respect which is seldom lost on the aged, but crabbed at times (pg. 35). Dansker is an important figure created to represent the knowledge and wisdom of a society.
John Claggart, the master-at-arms, portrays the strong characteristic of evil in Billy Budd. Melville uses this character as a strong symbol of his feelings on corrupt society. He creates this character who lies and makes false and malicious accusations towards Billy Budd, fueled by his undeniable envy of the good looks, cheery health, and frank enjoyment of young life in Billy Budd (pg. 42). Claggart s envy, along with the element of evil present in his personality, leads to the development of an evil character. Melville leads the reader to believe that goodness has overcome evil when Billy Budd consequently kills the character of Claggart. However, innocent, truthful, and good Billy Budd must also pay for his actions, which, charged guilty under The Mutiny Act, are found innocent and justified by the other sailors. Billy Budd remains a truthful, innocent man on the Indomitable, but unfortunately is killed. Evil, in the end, has won again, and Melville portrays this attitude through these characters.
Captain the Honorable Edward Fairfax Vere, was the captain of the Indomitable. Aside from his qualities as a sea officer Captain Vere was an exceptional character (pg. 27). Vere represented the order in society, and society as a whole. His role on the ship is to establish an atmosphere where there is order. [Vere] always acquitting himself as an officer mindful of the welfare of his men, but never tolerating an infraction of discipline (pg. 25-26). When Claggart presents his accusations of Billy Budd to Vere, he orders that Billy be brought to him at once. After seeing the deadly hit of Billy upon the head of Claggart, Vere is forced to call together a court to decide the fate of Billy Budd.). Vere believes in his heart that Billy Budd is innocent of any crime, or killing for that matter, however as his position held, he is forced to stick to the rules and persecute Billy for his actions. Vere is not a malicious man, for it seems that he felt just as much pain as Billy when he communicated the final verdict of the court to the prisoner. That the condemned one suffered less that he who mainly had effected the condemnation was apparently indicated by the former s exclamation (pg. 75). Captain Vere represents society, because he must put all feelings aside and deal with direct matters. Billy Budd killed another seaman, and this was a crime that had to be punished. Even thought Vere felt that Billy was innocent, he had no choice but to persecute him. Society works the same way. Specific duties must be carried out, despite personal feelings. Vere s job was to keep order within their society, just as order must be kept in any society.
Herman Melville creates four, very unique characters which each portray a different aspect of society. Billy Budd is a portrayal of the injustice as a whole that lies within our society. It is evident in this short story that evil prevails over goodness, a point which Melville believes is true in our real