Melville and the Social Injustices of His Day

Melvilles prevailing style throughout his life was

This preview shows 3 out of 5 pages.

easy way out, he chooses his duty over his heart. Melville's prevailing style throughout his life was one of allegory and satire. He eschewed the straight narratives of many of his contemporaries. Yet Billy Budd shows a change in style. His weapon for his final attack on the social injustices of the time is his use of irony. In all other respects it is similar to his earlier works. It is a sea story, which was Melville's favorite genre. It is rich in historical detail and dealt with the "everyman." There is no upper class portrayed in his book, although the irony often lands in that same group. In Billy Budd his barbed comments often find their mark. Melville often relates the common man to that of a savage and that of the ruling class to that of civilized men. The author portends that the "noble" savages have a better value system than so-called civilized society. When Billy utters his final phrase "God bless Captain Vere," he shows that with his simple faith he has a greater understanding of the world than Captain Vere ever will. Again the "savage" has shown that through pure instinct he is the better man. Captain Vere, upon hearing the words, is shocked. He addresses the crowd. But the Captain's words no longer have the ability to sway the sailors. The sailors have decided to go with the "heart" of the noble savage rather than the "mind" of the civilized man. The character of Billy Budd is one of simplicity itself. Billy wants nothing more than to live his days in a virtuous way. Ironically, it is his saintly virtue that sets him apart from his seafaring comrades for most of the novella. At the end of the story, that which had set Billy apart from his shipmates in life bonds them indelibly at the moment of his death. By then, the sympathy of the men is not with the Captain, but with the virtuous Billy. Joseph Schiffman put it best when he said, "In Billy Budd, Melville presents a picture of depravity subduing virtue, but not silencing it. Billy is sacrificed, but his ballad-singing mates seize upon this as a symbol of their lives. They never accepted natural depravity and victor, and they lived to see the end of the impressment" (49). Billy accepts his fate without question. Joyce Adler talks about his position: Billy accepts his impressment without complaint. Like the crew of the Pequod and all but a few of the sailors on the Neversink he is incapable of saying "no" to
Image of page 3

Subscribe to view the full document.

anyone in authority, or indeed of speaking at all when he most needs to defend himself. His "imperfection" is concretized in an actual "defect", a tongue-tie or "more or less of a stutter or even worse" (p53; Ch. ii). The reverse of this "organic hesitancy"-the ability to speak with authority-is possessed by no one in Billy Budd, but the dedication to Jack Chase, whose outstanding quality in White- Jacket is his willingness to be a spokesman, points to the contrast. There is no one resembling him on the Bellipotent-a rereading of the dedication after the novel is read will remind one-no independent spirit to speak up firmly for Billy. (165)
Image of page 4
Image of page 5
You've reached the end of this preview.

{[ snackBarMessage ]}

What students are saying

  • Left Quote Icon

    As a current student on this bumpy collegiate pathway, I stumbled upon Course Hero, where I can find study resources for nearly all my courses, get online help from tutors 24/7, and even share my old projects, papers, and lecture notes with other students.

    Student Picture

    Kiran Temple University Fox School of Business ‘17, Course Hero Intern

  • Left Quote Icon

    I cannot even describe how much Course Hero helped me this summer. It’s truly become something I can always rely on and help me. In the end, I was not only able to survive summer classes, but I was able to thrive thanks to Course Hero.

    Student Picture

    Dana University of Pennsylvania ‘17, Course Hero Intern

  • Left Quote Icon

    The ability to access any university’s resources through Course Hero proved invaluable in my case. I was behind on Tulane coursework and actually used UCLA’s materials to help me move forward and get everything together on time.

    Student Picture

    Jill Tulane University ‘16, Course Hero Intern