Many themes relating to the conflict between Good and Evil can be found in Herman Melville's novella Billy Budd. Perhaps one of the most widely recognized themes in Billy Budd is the corruption of innocence by society (Gilmore 18).
Society in Billy Budd is represented by an eighteenth century English man-of-war, the H.M.S. Bellipotent. Billy, who represents innocence, is a young seaman of twenty-one who is endowed with physical strength, beauty, and good nature (Voss 44). A crew member aboard the merchant ship Rights of Man, Billy is impressed by the English navy and is taken aboard the H.M.S. Bellipotent. As he boards the H.M.S. Bellipotent, he calmly utters, "Goodbye, Rights of Man," a farewell to his ship and crewmates. However, this farewell is not only meant for his ship, but for his actual rights as well, the rights that would have kept him innocent until proven guilty under a normal society (Gilmore 18). The society represented by the H.M.S. Bellipotent is much different from that of the outside world, as the various laws and regulations in effect during war turn a civilized society into more of a primitive state. The rights that are fought for during war were no longer possessed by the men on board the Bellipotent in an attempt to keep order as best as possible (Gilmore 18).
Billy was impressed by the English navy because of a need for good sailors. The Rights of Man cannot survive in the war-torn waters of the ocean without the protection of the Bellipotent, and the Bellipotent cannot protect the Rights of Man if it does not impress sailors (Tucker 248). On the H.M.S. Bellipotent, Billy faces destruction from a force which he does not ...
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...ic Encyclopedia. 1994 ed.
Bloom, Harold. The Chelsea House Library of Literary Criticism. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 1989.
Bloom, Harold. Modern Critical Views of Herman Melville. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 1986.
Foster, Edward, ed. Six American Novelists of the Nineteenth Century. Minneapolis: University of Minneapolis Press, 1968.
Gilmore, Michael T., ed. Twentieth Century Interpretations of Billy Budd. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall Inc., 1971.
Tucker, Martin, ed. Moulton's Library of Literary Criticism of English and
American Authors. 4 vols. New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1966.
Van Doren, Carl. The American Novel. New York: The Macmillian Company, 1968.
Voss, Authur. The American Short Story. Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1973.
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