The Symbolism of Billy Budd in Herman Melville's Billy Budd

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Billy Budd: A Tale of Innocence and Tragedy

Billy Budd is a tale that follows after Billy Budd, a handsome sailor who possessed a purity of innocence and near physical perfection. However, a single flaw results in his death. As the story begins, Billy is taken from a homeward-bound merchant vessel and undeterred by the impressment he boards into a British Navy ship (Melville 48-86). Soon the young man earns the admiration of the crew due to his upright nature to the extent that the strong-willed captain Vere takes particular note of the boy. The narrative portrays Billy as perfect in that he had no grasp of wrongdoing, which is symbolized by an Adam on-board a floating Garden of Eden.<\/p>

The Tragic Downfall

Nonetheless, the master-at-arms soon makes his envy and hatred known to Billy. Billy, being na\u00efve fail to guard against the wickedness that is manifested by Claggart. Claggart continues and falsely accuses the young sailor with conspiracy to committee mutiny. However, Billy astounded is unable to defend himself or respond because of his stutter, and in frustration, he strikes out and instantly kills Claggart. As a result, Billy is condemned and hanged for his attack on Claggart (Melville 48-86). The situation surrounding the punishment of Billy creates a significant and dramatic climax to this tale.<\/p>

The Fall of Man

This narrative is a symbolic tale of the fall of man for which the main characters represent: Captain Vere as God \u2013 the Almighty Judge and Billy; Claggart as Satan; and Billy as Adam. The story combines both the eternal opposites entrenched in hate and love. For the wicked Claggart, hate become the twisted reaction to pure love while for Billy, love is depicted as spontaneous and natural. For the captain, love become the focal point for relaying judgment. The impact of Billy\u2019s death is represented like some form of divinity in which the crew still considering his innocence.<\/p>

Work Cited

Melville, Herman. Benito Cereno and Billy Budd. Kessinger Publishing, 1853.

December 12, 2023




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