Comparing Billy Budd and Christ

Powerful Essays
Comparing Billy and Christ in Billy Budd

Herman Melville's Billy Budd provides us with a summation and conclusive commentary on the ambiguities of moral righteousness and social necessity. The conflict that arises pitting natural justice in opposition to military justice essentially deliberates over whether the sacrifice of the individual is required for the continuum and conservation of social order. The deep allegorical theme of the passion of Christ that resides in Billy Budd illustrates Melville's adjudication on this issue. The sacrifice of Billy Budd for the upholding of social order is an illusionary backdrop to Christ offering up His life for the forgiveness of the sins of mankind. Melville implements this theological staple of belief into supporting the argument for the forfeiture of individual and moral justice to uphold order for the betterment of society.

The initial description of Billy Budd is strikingly Christ-like in nature. The opening paragraph of the novel alone is an almost prophetic preamble to the coming of the Messiah, or in this case, the "Handsome Sailor": "In certain instances they would flank, or like a bodyguard quite surround, some superior figure of their own class, moving along with them like Alderbaran among the lesser lights of his constellation" (Norton 1486). Billy is the embodiment of the idea of the Handsome Sailor and because so, his contemporaries flock to him in an idolatrous manner: "At each spontaneous tribute rendered by the wayfarers to this black pagod of a fellow-the tribute of a pause and a stare, and less frequently an exclamation-the motley retinue showed that they took that sort of pride in the evoker of it which the Assyrian priests doubtless showed for their grand sculpt...

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...ts of violence are militaristic in nature and don't exemplify the teachings of Christ. What these differences do create is a definite line between the worlds of Man and God. The differences between Billy and Jesus accentuate Melville's argument for the separation of secular and natural law. Christ died for the right of Man to be judged by God for the prospects of eternal life, while in contrast, Billy died for the perpetuation of social justice governed by Man. By drawing comparisons and contrasts between Billy and Christ and for what each man respectively died for, Melville makes us question our own ideas of natural justice in its relation to socially imposed justice.

Works Cited

Melville, Herman. Billy Budd, Sailor and Other Stories. Ed. Frederick Busch. New York: Penguin, 1986.

The Holy Bible, New King James Version. Dallas: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1979.
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