Billy Budd Essay, Research Paper
Joyce Carol Oates writes that Herman Melville?s novels have artistic difficulty because he uses fiction writing as a preachy parable. Oates believes that Melville?s writing is annoying for the modern reader to interpret because of contemporary expectations that writing be entertaining and less like a heavy sermon. Oates believes a contemporary reader must become educated in the fact that Melville?s characters are depiction of ideas, not characters in a drama, in order to make sense of his work. Additionally, Oates thinks Melville?s bulky, drawn-out sentences and lofty vocabulary almost prevents a reading of his work for pleasure. Any beauty of the story is hidden in a tangle of big words. This is a true analysis of Melville. It can be confirmed and explained by a brief example of contemporary expectations from a novel, a quick look at the life of Melville, and some actual samples from the novel, Billy Budd.
Today?s reader?s know Melville best from the novel Moby Dick. Movies were made of this story. It is a story synonymous with sea adventure to most people. Contemporary readers buy and read a story that moves through a clear beginning, middle and end. Best selling books on the Internet site, Amazon.com. are The Hours, by Michael Cunningham and The Pilot’s Wife by Anita Shreve. These are interesting, fast paced stories. Melvile didn?t seem to want to write stories. He was too serious a man for stories.
Herman Melville helped his mother raise a large family and overcome deep debt left from his father?s death. This task left Melville depressed. Throughout his life, he held a pessimistic view. Bad news caught his attention quicker than cheerful news. Calamities and tribulations at sea were his favorite news items and inspired some of his writings. One of Melville?s first poems was called “Billy in the Darbies”. In it he wrote of a real sailor who had been apprehended, tried, and sentenced to hang over a mutiny plot .
This poem expanded into the prose work, Billy Budd. The title character is a young sailor who murders a mean master-at-arms in a fit of justifiable fury. The conflict between the good Billy Budd and the evil character, John Claggart finally centers on Captain Vere. The Captain has the responsibility in determining right from wrong. Readers may admire or disapprove of Captain Vere for his decision to sentence Billy Budd to death by public hanging, if they care enough at the end of their reading labor to have an opinion.
While trying to sort out the moral questions in Billy Budd, the reader must read through detailed and difficult writing. Melville?s writing is overly descriptive. Describing one minor character?s opinion of an Admiral Nelson, near the beginning of the book, this sentence shows the main problem with Melville for the contemporary reader;
They may add, too, Trafalgar it was in effect nothing less than a challenge to death; and death came; and that but for is bravado the victorious admiral might possibly have survived the battle, and so, instead of having his sagacious dying injunctions overruled by his immediate successor in command, he himself when the contest was decided might have brought his shattered fleet to anchor, a proceeding which might have averted the deplorable loss of life by shipwreck in the elemental tempest that followed the martial one. (Melville 306)
In conclusion, Melville is difficult to read due to his complicated sentence structure and vocabulary. The complex moral questions in the novel Billy Budd is one with no immediate answer. The modern reader approaches Melville with the expectation for a quick paced drama that leads to a conclusion and finds slow, hard reading that leads to an open ended issue of right and wrong. The modern reader worries about finding meaning in the tangle of tricky words rather than considers the art and beauty of good writing.