To form simply one opinion or show merely one aspect of this story is naive, rude, and closed minded. How may one stick to one deli mea, moral questioning, or out-look on a book that jumps from such cases like frogs on lily pads? Just as Melville has done, I shall attempt to arrange my perception of Billy Budd, in a similar fashion. That is, through an unorthodox practice (that is; jumping from pt. to point), of writing an essay I shall constantly change and directions and goals of what it is I wish to state.
One may perceive the book s structure to be loose and quite flexible; one finds that the fits and starts, and the shifting of lengths between chapters are the best way to convey the feelings/ meanings of Billy s story. Maybe the narrator believes that Billy is true on a deeper sense; in other words, it corresponds to real experience. Don t you, yourself find that when you are trying to make a major decision, or living through some crucial event your mind keeps shifting from one thing to another, sometimes quickly and dramatically, sometimes inventing hypothetical situations to use as comparisons or differences? This is similar to the case as seen in Billy Budd. The Book doesn t work in a strict and orderly fashion but starts out to describe at length different characters, then moves to fast actions, slows down again to a very argued trail, then draws rapidly to a close with Billy s hanging. Even after that event, (the hanging), the book lingers on with a comment of it and ties up all loose ends (Captain Vere dieing etc ). Though this story lacks orthodox format, it coheres in a profound and moving way.
The style and point of view of Billy Budd can be dealt with together b/c of the strong narrative voice determines both. The narrator of the story is clearly a highly educated person with a great knowledge of mythology. Though the voice of the narrative is consistent in this novel, the point of view is constantly changing. Sometimes we are put inside the heads of the characters (he tells us Claggart s secret thoughts about Billy, and makes us feel the anguish Captain Vere is experiencing in making his hard decision. Then again there are other times were he removes both of us (narrator, and reader), from a scene, (Best example being, when Vere goes to tell Billy that he must hang- and avoids making judgments). The shifting perspective and not including judgments forces one to make their own feelings and values to the events in the book. It s these shifts that make the book ever more true, real, and complex in the different situations.
The narrator constantly makes allusions to the Bible and to Greek mythology, and this has the effect of elevating Billy s story into a symbolic drama. The narrator also has the habit of straying, and he confesses that this weakness is a literary sin. One might find these acts to be distracting, but in fact when you stop to think why the narrator included them it sheds a certain light. Not only does the narrator keep changing his point of view, but he keeps changing his pace as well. Background on history (the war), a long analysis of characters, which are followed by intense dramatic action (i.e.; Billy being approached in joining a mutiny, and later killing Claggart). Through such an approach the narrator evokes the atmosphere of the story.
Many different themes arise in this tale. Firstly, one most note that Billy was given 3 main nicknames; Baby Budd, he was seen as a form of Christ, and as Adam from the Garden of Paradise. When seeing all three in the same sentence it brings one to compare and contrast. What do all three essentially have? Innocence. Furthermore, such a quality isn t lost through yourself but through the actions of others. A Baby doesn t grow up until his eyes are opened and he is stripped of his purity. Christ was all good until he was hanged a crucifix by those who opposed his beliefs- again another stripped of his goodness. Last but not least, the comparison of Billy to Adam. Adam was a man, G-d first creation, and therefore is seen as one of the highest levels of hollies. He did not know evil, for he was the first, but what brought about his fall was the temptation of the snake.
To stretch further into the ideas of Billy and his relation to each description, one must view them in context. Baby; who bestowed Billy with such a title? Though Billy has many friends among the crew of the Indomitable, the Dansker is the only one whose character Melville fills out completely. Wrinkled, cynical, tight-lipped, and wise in the crooked ways of the world, the Dansker offers quite a contrast to the handsome young sailor whom he dubs Baby Budd. Moreover, Melville compares the old Dansker to the oracle at Delphi, a kind of religious fortune-teller whom the ancient Greeks would consult for advise about the future. Like this oracle, the Dansker likes making short, cryptic pronouncements, and once he speaks, he refuses to explain what he s said. Billy, for one, can t understand half of his utterances, and what he understands he refuses to believe. You might get frustrated with him because, while he cares for Billy, he refuses to take a stand and speak up for him. In addition, after this short account of who the Dansker is, one can see vividly why he was named Baby Budd. On a physical level Billy contrasted the Dansker quite vividly. On a deeper level, thought still easy to grasp, one sees that the Dansker is wise in the crooked ways, however; Billy is yet a baby.
Seeing Billy as a form of Christ; In order to envision Billy as a Christ, one must first approach Christ for what he was. Christ was a simple man (shepherd), and sacrificed himself so as others wouldn t be hurt. He too was betrayed by someone he felt he could trust. (Judas). Similarly, Billy was simply (the book never gave us reason to believe that Billy was greatly educated or such). Secondly, after Billy s unintentional sin, his resignation to his fate presents Billy as Christ like in his willingness to accept the sacrifice of his own life in order to maintain social order. Moreover, I believe that because Billy was approached to join a mutiny, decided not to, and still didn t report the men he was approached by, the people saw him as an above type of person. Billy like Christ was also betrayed by someone he thought he could trust. Don t be misunderstood; I am not referring to Captain Vere, but Claggart. For example; in the incident of the spilling of the soup, Claggart did not react in a rash manner, therefore, Billy put down all guards from him. This proof is most noticeable, in the scene in which Billy is hanged and the gallows in which Billy is hung upon is seen as a sort of Crucifix and Billy himself as a Christ-like figure.
Billy is closely associated with Adam before the Fall. Claggart is like the serpent Satan who wormed his way into Eden and tricked mankind out of a state of purity, innocence, and happiness. Billy Budd reenacts this age-old conflict between good and evil symbolically and in the workings of the plot. However, I think this parable only goes as far as the case with Billy killing Claggart. Even beyond that simple understanding, the fall of man can be looked at in different ways. Sociologically, when purity and innocence is stripped away by the act of killing Claggart. Simplicity, to law and judge. Another way to interpret Billy s fall, is that of man to industry. (Although this idea is more stressed in Bartleby).
Yes, Billy reenacts the Fall of Man, but it goes a step further to show the forgiveness and acceptance that follows. The crucial scene in this book is the meeting between Captain Vere and Billy after the trail (the scene from which we re significantly excluded), when the judge embraces the condemned killer like a father to a son. The father-son motif is a sub-theme within this general interpretation. The key in the book is Billy s resounding blessing: “God Bless Captain Vere!”(Chapter 21)
In Billy Budd, the role of the judge and leader is played by the Honorable Edward Fairfax Vere, the commander of the Indomitable. Vere is a member of the English aristocracy. A bachelor about 40 years old, Vere is a brave but not reckless captain, who has distinguished himself in several battles and risen to his rank through dedicate service and because he treats his crew well. He is an intellectual, which is something rare in the armed forces. He loves to read, especially history and philosophy Books that reinforce his strong conservative opinions of the world. Though he is a decisive leader, he also has a touch of dreaminess in his character and on occasion has been seen staring into the sea. Because it is understood that Vere and Billy were close it brings to question why Vere wouldn t have pardoned Billy?
Very Far was he from embracing opportunities for monopolizing to himself the perils of moral responsibility . (chapter 21)
Captain Vere can be looked upon in at least three different lights. Vere as a stern but just judge, Vere as cold-blooded coward, and as a well-rounded man in a tough spot. Each give reason to why Billy stated, G-d bless Captain Vere. And through each it is easy to asset why in each it would make sense.
Vere as stern but just judge; No one likes the fact that Billy hangs for killing Claggart, but many feel that Vere made the only decision possible. As the Captain of the Indomitable, he must look out for the welfare of the whole ship, not just the fate of one man, and his decision to execute Billy takes this priority into account. It is apparent to us, as readers that Vere suffers because the more he sees of Billy the more he loves him. By the end, he feels almost like Billy s father. He knows Billy is innocent before God (chapter 21) in the ultimate sense, but his duty concerns the here and now. The law demands that Billy must hang, and Vere knows he must uphold the law. Furthermore, to implement this level of reasoning with the phrase God Bless Captain Vere, one may interpret it to mean; poor Captain Vere, may you bless him for it is the fault of society not this man. In addition, knowing that Vere is brave, single at 40 and all together devoted to his work, his true pain for Billy Becomes known when he dies in the preceding battle. His last words uttered were Billy; Billy s last words were Captain Vere.
As Vere takes leave of Bill, the senior lieutenant notices a look of agony on his face (chapter 22)
Through another window one can view Vere to be a cold-blooded coward. Vere argued himself into the death penalty for Billy out of cowardice and naked fear. He might easily have pardoned Billy, but he convinces himself that to do so would cause the crew to mutiny, and he uses this lame argument to convince the other judges to go along with him. It s the typical second-guessing of a nervous coward. Vere might read a lot of books, but all they do is harden his already settled opinions. Like so many intellectuals, he totally separates his feelings from his thoughts, and assumes that his gut reaction is wrong, because it comes from his gut! In this respect; the phrase God Bless Captain Vere, takes on a new meaning. Now it can stand to mean, God bless this man for he is lost.
Yet another way to look at Captain Vere is too simply soggiest that Vere is a well-rounded man in a tough spot. He s a leader and a thinker, a man of deep feelings but also a stickler for details, a man with strong personal opinions but an even stronger sense of duty. There is no simple answer to this case. Furthermore, if you look at Billy; Billy didn t report the mutiny, and followed his heart doing what he felt was moral. If you observe Captain Vere; The Captain decides to hang Billy, he did what the law directed him to do. If you look at the outcome of each person then you will notice something in congruence, they both died. Perhaps this is to tell us that in a world of such complexity, peoples will suffer the same fate regardless of the direction of society (law), or personal conclusion (that is moral). In this one can interpret the phrase, God bless Captain Vere to mean, God bless this man for he was left with a fork in the road in which both outcomes were similar.
This is the fundamental nature of Vere s nature and everyone agrees one these basic facts. When Vere has to deal with the extremely difficult situation on board the ship caused by Claggart s accusation, and Billy s striking out at him, his character is thrown into a whole new light. His ultimate decision, however, is up to endless debate. The way one feels about his decision will prove to be the backbone of one s interpretation of the book. I personally agree with the choice that Captain Vere made.
What is Claggart s problem? This is a question you can think about endlessly and still not answer to your satisfaction. Claggart is basically the force of evil in Billy Budd. He is Billy s opposite in just about every way. This will give you a good handle on how to talk about Claggart but it doesn t get to the bottom of him. As Melville makes so clear in this book, evil is a mystery that can never be adequately explained. Being Claggart is the embodiment of evil, contains this mystery at the very center of his character.
Claggart is at the other end of the rope (good v. evil); it is amazing to see how they both steam from a similar steam. To look at him you might not think he is so bad. Thirty-five years old, tall, dark haired, and fairly handsome, there are only two really unusual things in his appearance- a dead-white complexion and an overly large chin. It is interesting to view a dead white complexion as a description for someone with dead feature. To say he is dead you can connect him to the very symbol of Satan or snake that he is thought out to be. He is dead in the sense of lacking heart/ feelings. As for an overly large chin, this is usually a similar physical feature seen with many evil characters, i.e., Cruealla Deville, and other dark creatures leering in the shadows. Both Claggart are rather handsome (except for the difference stated about Claggart to view Billy s appearance see chapter 1). Both had no real background, all we know of Billy is that he use to work on the Great man and now moved to the indomitable as a result of war. As for Claggart he seems to be quite intelligent, and no one can figure out how h got to the navy. Rumor has it that Claggart as a small time criminal in England, and he was drafted directly from prison. But no one knows for sure. About his intelligence, just like the snake used his intelligence to trick Mankind, Claggart too uses his intelligence to trick Billy. Thus the fall of either s Garden.
Upon this review, one can ask such a question of, does every Eden have to have its snake? The presence of John Claggart in Billy Budd suggest that evil is part of our world, and it will always attach itself to innocence and try to corrupt it.
Billy Budd focuses on the inner life of a single ship. Life aboard the Indomitable is a scaled down model of life itself, yet it is apparent of the intensity and almost claustrophic this setting can be as the story proceeds and everything is heightened. Thought the wide-open sea is all around, it only isolates the men from the rest of the world. If you ve ever been momentarily separated on a camping trip, per-say, then you know how quickly one can get on another s nerves. This story captures that intensity. One must also remember that Billy is set in a time of war and mutiny, and theses factors have a major impact on the story and everyone s decisions.