Reader Reaction to Billy Budd
I approached Melville's Billy Budd with a mixture of trepidation and determination. I read the Introduction first, because I thought its purpose was to introduce the author, and place the selected stories in context and I thought this would be an aid to understanding. I was correct, but too correct, because Joyce Carol Oates, without warning of the spoiler, casually references Billy's death.
I think this knowledge influenced my reading, because I was aware of the ultimate outcome, I read with the purpose of understanding why that came to be. However, I am still a little angry with her for ruining the climax because Billy Bud is not such a generally well known story that it is fair to assume that the reader is familiar with the plot; her Introduction should have been Afterword. It did, however, provide some useful information that I was glad to know beforehand.
For example, explaining that the work was published posthumously, based on unfinished manuscript was helpful in understanding that the sometimes sloppy diction and overdone prose was not the work that Melville intended for the audience--had he lived and published it himself, he would have edited and refined it. Knowing this I approached it by reading for the ideas he was trying to convey rather than trying to find meaning in each line.
Billy Budd is written in a style that is intimidating and at times the prose can overwhelm the concepts. It is unfortunate that the first few chapters are the best example of this because it alienates readers and this story requires several readings to fully appreciate the work. Melville's use of double...
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...eliberations, he decided almost instantly and the justifications were all read in the context of him persuading the court so I did not feel like it was a true moral deliberation.
I have thought about Melville's style of writing a lot, debating on whether it is good or bad, because I feel like he alienates a large audience. I have come to the conclusion that the problem is not his style but the audience itself. As a society, we have become very lazy readers, we want soundbites and great literature in a nutshell. His writing disrupts our expectations and you really have to work to read and understand each of his sentences. But when a reader does so, you come to appreciate what a truly great writer he is--he packs so much meaning into just a few lines, and you start to savor his truly artful turns of phrases.
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