Herman Melville's Billy Budd relates an allegory of innocence versus evil by symbolizing Billy Budd, John Claggart, and Captain Vere as Jesus Christ, Lucifer, and God.
The protagonist in the novel is Billy Budd. The experiences that Billy undergoes throughout the novel parallel what Jesus Christ endured in his life. Melville characterizes Billy Budd as an innocent man physically and mentally. The first feature sailors would notice about Billy were his schoolboy features, with blond hair and blue eyes. His suave looks caused some people to refer to him as "the handsome sailor"(16). Most often sailors were scurvy men, quite often with diseases, who made no effort to uphold a handsome appearance. With his tanned complexion and sound build he resembles Hercules, one of the flawless Greek Gods of mythology (17). Billy's full name is William, but the sailors felt that the childish name, Billy, was more appropriate. Commonly only young innocent boys hold the name Billy, but the sailors see the man as an innocent boy. Billy's innocence sparked the Dankser to give Billy a nickname because "...whether in freak of patriarchal irony touching Billy's youth and athletic frame or for some other and more recondite reason, from the first in addressing him he [the Dansker] always substituted 'Baby' for 'Billy'"(35). The characteristics aforementioned verify Billy's innocent nature, just as Jesus Christ held the same innocent disposition. After Billy's capture from the Rights of Man, by impressment, he shows no remorse toward his old captain and shipmates for not protecting him. Billy, as well as Jesus, cannot hold a because their innocent nature renders them incapable ...
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...t pay for his sin. To abide by the law, Vere tells the jury "The prisoner's deed - with that alone we have to do"(69). When the jury convicts Billy, as they were strongly swayed by Vere, Captain Vere takes it upon himself to tell Billy of his demise. Melville does not touch on the scene much, but it is a warm sentimental scene with Vere acting as Billy's father and consoling him. Captain Vere symbolically stands as God.
The classic battle between the righteous and the reprobate comes alive with symbolism in Herman Melville's allegory Billy Budd, with Billy Budd, John Claggart, and Captain Vere being portrayed as Jesus Christ, Lucifer, and God.
Chase, Richard. Herman Melville: A Critical Study. New York: Hafner Publishing Company, 1971.
Melville, Herman. Billy Budd, Sailor and Other Stories. Ed. Frederick Busch. New York: Penguin, 1986.
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