Billy Budd

Author Name: 
Melville, Herman
Grades: 
9
10
11
12
Comments: 
General
A young sailor who is liked by his peers is framed for treason. He punches his accuser and accidentally kills him, thereby being convicted and hung. This happens despite the fact that the captain and the court all feel that he is innocent. They convict him to follow the rules of martial law and to ensure that the other sailors don't think they can get away with things. Can lead to discussions about following rules or conscience- which would have to be monitored carefully. A few allusions to religion, but since they aren't explained, they will likely go over the head of most ignorant readers. A young sailor who is liked by his peers is framed for treason. He punches his accuser and accidentally kills him, thereby being convicted and hung. This happens despite the fact that the captain and the court all feel that he is innocent. They convict him to follow the rules of martial law and to ensure that the other sailors don't think they can get away with things. Can lead to discussions about following rules or conscience- which would obviously have to be monitored carefully. A few allusions to religion, but since they aren't explained, they will likely go over the head of many ignorant readers. In this edition, Tom Doherty Associates, the foreward (pg. x) mentions that some scholars compare this to the life of yoshka "in spite of Melville's life long skepticism about religion- and the perceptive reader will pick up on the frequent Christian symbols and images such as references to Calvinism and the Holy Writ, Claggart's elemental evil, and Billy Budd's acceptance of his fate, his ascension into the "soft glory of the fleece of the lamb of g" etc. and later mentions (pg.xii) that "Billy's acceptance of his fate is as essential to the novel as C's acceptance of the crucifixion to the Christian story.". Comparision of captain telling sailor he was sentenced to die to Abraham telling Isaac (chapt 22 pg 91). When the captain announces to the crew that the sailor was sentenced to be executed "Their captain's announcement was listened to by the throng of standing sailors in a dumbness like that of a seated congregation of believers in hell listening to the clergyman's annoncement of his Calvinistic text." The ship's chaplain comes to talk to the sailor before he dies - he is called a minister of yoshka. The sailor is compared to the barbarians in history who took on christianity (chapt 24 p97) which continues (on p98) talking about seraphs/angels. The priest understands that he shouldn't talk to the convicted man about "thoughts of salvation and a savior" since he wouldn't understand. Brief mention that the priest's role was to put a religious stamp of agreement on the decision. As he is killed "the vapory fleece hanging low in the east was shot through with a soft glory as of the fleece of the lamb of god seen in a mystical vision" (chapt 35 p102)
School Resource: 
Teen: 
0
Rating: 
Classic