Megan Brosnihan

Prof. Saltzman

Billy Bud

March 29, 2009

In his literary works, both short stories and novels alike, Herman Melville uses allegories to demonstrate life lessons. His novella Billy Budd is an excellent example of allegorical work. Every character in this novel represents a life lesson or a moral viewpoint. This is true for Billy Budd, John Claggart and Billy Bud. Melville uses morals and life lessons to express his characters personalities

Firstly, Captain Vere is the captain of Bellipotent. He is a bachelor and he is very professional. On land he does not appear to be a ship's captain but a professional. Captain Vere does not use nautical terms however he is an experienced sailor. He is known to be an honest and truefull man. He loves to study books and learn about the world.

In Billy Budd, Captain Vere plays an intriguing roll. He condemns Billy Bud the innocent man to die while leaving Claggart, the antagonist, go free. Thus showing how individuals must follow the rules of society no matter what their personal options may be. Previously, in the novella readers learn that the navy has experienced two mutinies that year. Clearly, Captain Vere wants to prevent further munities so he must hear Claggart's accusations even if he doubts the accusations.

After Billy Budd kills Claggart, Captain Vere feels that he has legal responsibly to give Claggart justice. That is why Captain Vere sentences Billy Budd to death. In his mind nautical laws not personal feelings must govern society. This is necessary because it maintains society and keeps society steady making no individual exceptions. In Herman Melville's Billy Budd, Captain Vere does not follow his own personal convictions but rather the letter of the law. Thus displaying how individuals are bound by the rules of society.

Herman Melville often uses Biblical allegories in his works. Billy Budd is no exception; it contains many Biblical allegories. Captain Vere himself is an allegory. Melville's Billy Budd is an allegory of the Bible's Passion of Christ. Billy Budd symbolizes Jesus Christ, an innocent who is sacrificed, Claggart is Judas, a scheming betrayer and Captain Vere is Pontius Pilate, a judge. Pontius Pilate was the governing Roman official of Jerusalem and Captain Vere is the governing official of the Bellipotent. Captain Vere like Pontius Pilate does not want to kill Billy Budd. Captain Vere, like Pontius Pilate, realizes that Billy Budd is a good moral man who is in a bad situation. Still, Captain Vere, like Pontius Pilate, must follow the law since they are the governing official. Thus Melville usage of a biblical allegory in comparing Captain Vere to Pontius Pilate is an excellent and well constructed allegory.

Herman Melville's Billy Budd contains an ironic moment when Captain Vere states that John Claggart's death was divine judgment. He alludes to the fact that Billy Budd is an "angel". It did not matter to Captain Vere that Billy Bud had shown the true evil upon the Bellipontent. Captain Vere still has the "angel" sentenced to death. The irony in this tragic situation lies in the fact that Vere means truth in French. If Captain Vere was truly a seeker of truth then he did not follow the truth. Justice, which can be defined as the pursuit of moral law, is not acted upon in this situation. Captain Vere strictly follows the maritime code giving no credence to justice or the truth. That is the irony in John Claggart's death. Justice is not given by a man whose name symbolizes justice.

Another point of irony occurs in Herman Melville's Billy Budd when Captain Vere says that the death of Claggart was like "the divine judgment on Ananias" (Melville 322) Ananias was a biblical figure who was struck dead upon taking credit for what he did not do. Schaak states that Captain Vere "has ample to analysis the situation" (Schaak 87) Thus showing that Captain Vere is aware of this responsibilities as a captain and he knows he must process anyway despite his personal feelings. Captain Vere realizes that John Claggart is a liar and yet despite this other compelling fact. Captain Vere still condemns Billy Budd to death.

At this point in Herman Melville's Billy Budd it seems that Captain Vere is in a state of temporary insanity. He appears to be "in a trance". In fact Captain Vere is torn between following his personal convictions or the law. Lonenecker says Captain Vere is torn between "what is right and what is real" This is what leads him to that state of temporary insanity. Despite Captain Vere's strict punishment upon Billy Budd he does have a good reason. Any alteration from the ships rules could make the ship's crew assume that changes will be made in any situation. For instance, it is acceptable for a crewmember to kill another crewmember. That could eventually lead to mutiny which Captain Vere did not want due to the two mutinies that had already occurred. Even before Billy Budd is convicted by the maritime court, Captain Vere knows the outcome of the trial. He knows he will be killing an innocent for the purpose of the law. Therefore Captain Vere's state of insanity is forgivable due to being caught between a moral situation and maritime laws.

After Billy Budd kills Claggart, Captain Vere calls a maritime trial with all his naval officers. These officers have had much more contact with Billy Budd than Captain Vere. The officers know Billy Budd's nickname of "the handsome sailor". They know him and relate to him. When it's time for Billy Budd's trial, Captain Vere reminds his officers that they should appeal to the law instead of their personal convictions. Thus again showing Herman Melville's strong imagery between the law and personal convictions in his novella Billy Budd.

In the final chapters of Herman Melville's novella Billy Bud, Captain Vere takes on the role of the biblical Abraham instead of Pontius Pilate. God tests Abraham's loyalty when he asks him to kill Isaac. Similarly, the maritime law tests the loyalty of Captain Vere when Billy Budd is condemned to death. Even when Billy Budd proclaims "God bless Captain Vere", Captain Vere remains composed and resolute. He knows he has a responsibility to maintain order upon the Bellipotent. In the end Captain Vere follows the maritime law instead of personal moral convictions.

Herman Melville's novella Billy Budd contains copious biblical allusions and shows the relationship between legal responsibility and moral responsibility. Billy Budd is a small novella but contains life lessons. It is in the typical style of Herman Melville with biblical and moral lessons. Altogether, Herman Melville makes a prevailing point and delivers it well to his readers.

Works Cited

Longenecker, Marlene. "CAPTAIN VERE AND THE FORM OF TRUTH." Studies in Short Fiction 14.4 (Fall77 1977): 337. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. [Library name], [City], [State abbreviation]. 2 Apr. 2009 ...?direct=true&db=aph&AN=7151128&site=ehost-live.

Melville, Herman. Billy Budd

Schaak, Douglas. "The Ananias Reference in Billy Budd." Explicator 67.2 (Winter2009 2009): 86-89. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. [Library name], [City], [State abbreviation]. 2 Apr. 2009 ...?direct=true&db=aph&AN=36984639&site=ehost-live.