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