As with many great works of literature, it is important to become familiar with the author's life and time period in which he or she lived. This understanding helps to clarify the significance and meaning of his or her work. In many ways, Billy Budd depicts issues of importance to Herman Melville with both direct and indirect parallels to the time of the Civil War and to particular individuals of Melville's life. Important to the creation of Billy Budd were the war, current politics, slavery, and even the assassination of President Lincoln. This essay intends to identify the analogous relationship between these incidences and the particular individuals of Melville's life that inspired him to write Billy Budd.
Melville seems to have lived a life that was inevitably centered around war and politics. His grandparents were fighters during the Revolutionary War and Melville was of age 42 when the Civil War erupted. Melville also spent a large part of his life as a sailor. Although he never participated in the war in any official capacity, we see evidence of how the Civil War was of glaring significance in his life by examining Billy Budd and most of his other works.
Politics were an important factor in the life of Herman Melville. Although he was known to never vote, he held tenaciously to his socio-political opinions. During that time, it was common for politics to be a big topic of family discussion as common political beliefs were strengtheners of the American family. Around then, major dissension existed between the Democrats and the Republicans. Also, families lived and behaved according to a particular faction's ideals. The Melville family generally shared the ...
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...lways. Melville was slowly saying "goodbye" to his sailorman days. His hopes that the world would view advancement in the destructive way he perceived it to be were shattered. As The Civil War World mentioned the parallel, "like the death of Billy Budd in Herman's last romance, it takes its significance from the mystery of life, from the existential beauty of youth in its heedless and vigorous dreamlike march toward its starry end," Melville died with his goal unreached, despite his attempts to communicate to Americans through creative literature. Herman Melville's Billy Budd offers us insightful thoughts about the struggle between good vs. evil, Christ vs. Satan, subordination vs. insubordination, advancement vs. stagnation and manages to correlate them all in one novel.
Melville, Herman. Billy Budd and Other Tales. New York: Signet - NAL, 1961.
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