Melville and the Social Injustices of His Day

Melville and the Social Injustices of His Day - Thesis...

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Thesis Statement In the novella Billy Budd, Melville uses ordinary people of his day to highlight the social injustices of the time. t Melville and the Social Injustices of His Day Herman Melville was a common man. He never went to college, and he never had the things that most writers of his day had; for in that time, writing alone was not normally enough to sustain you. While his contemporaries were lawyers, doctors, clerks, businessmen, politicians, and other white-collar workers, Melville learned to write while working on a number of different ships as a crewmember. On ships, it was a great skill to be able to tell stories of land and sea, to be able to transport the people on board to another time and place. Melville first learned to tell a story here. He would talk of epic sea battles. He would talk about brave sailors and dastardly villains. It was from this time that his great talent for allegories would arise. But it was not until his final novel, which was not printed until after his death, that he wrote his masterpiece. In the novella Billy Budd, Melville uses the ordinary people of his day to highlight the social injustices of the time. Billy Budd shows how we see heroes, villains, and war today, but in reality it is best when you understand the context. Billy Budd was written in the late nineteenth century (1888-1891). America had expanded from sea to shining sea. The frontier had been closed in 1890, and America could no longer expand. The Pioneer's days were over. The country did not have a great navy. In fact it was struggling to rebuild itself after the bloody Civil War. The United States was attempting to rise above its beginnings, but America was stuck in a paradox. H. Bruce Franklin talks about America's problem: To become a world power, America would need both overseas colonies and a large peacetime navy. Indeed, these two were inseparable, for a military fleet was necessary to seize and hold colonies, and these colonies provided bases indispensable to maintaining such a fleet. The crucial question being debated was this: what were the consequences for the American republic and its democratic ideology, both founded in a revolution against imperialism and the standing armies indispensable to imperialism, if the nation were to rule overseas colonies and maintain a large, permanent, peacetime navy? (200) This debate is waged symbolically between Billy Budd and Captain Vere. Billy symbolizes the belief that doing the right thing is all that is needed while
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Captain Vere believes that doing right was secondary to maintaining the control and sanctity of the Queen's Navy. In essence, Melville uses Billy as an allegory for the young United States trying to do what was right, while Captain Vere has all the characteristics of imperialism that Melville had detested all his life. Vere lives his life in fear of anyone going outside of the "rules" on which he has based his life. The story foresees the consequences of unbridled militarism and imperialism,
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Melville and the Social Injustices of His Day - Thesis...

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