Book Report on Billy Budd

This essay has a total of 2921 words and 12 pages.

Billy Budd


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
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