Billy Budd Essay: Comparing Christ to Billy

Billy Budd Essay: Comparing Christ to Billy

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Comparing Christ to Billy of Billy Budd

 
      "I stand for the heart. To the dogs with the head!" wrote Herman Melville in his June 1851 letter to Nathaniel Hawthorne (Davis and Gilman 3). Yet, by the time he began writing Billy Budd, Sailor in 1888, Melville must have tempered this view, for Billy Budd depicts the inevitable destruction of a man who is all heart but who utterly lacks insight. Melville no doubt intends for his reader to connect this tale with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Billy Budd endures a persecution similar to Christ's; he is executed for like reasons, and he eventually ascends, taking "the full rose of the dawn" (BB 376). Yet, in creating Billy Budd, Melville forms a character who is but a half-Christ, more like the Child than the Man. Indeed, a number of characteristics and circumstances sharply distinguish Billy Budd from the complete Christ. These differences ultimately work to support Melville's (now refined) philosophy that innocence, unaccompanied by wisdom, must inevitably meet with destruction and that only when a man balances the "spontaneous impulses of [his] 'heart'" against the experiential "wisdom of [his] 'head'" (Howard 328) can he prevail in a fallen world.

 

Critics often connect Billy Budd with the Christ Child. Richard Chase, for instance, writes that Billy Budd is the realization of Melville's "fresh commitment to the infantile Christ" (267), and Milton Stern claims that Billy's behavior represents an "ideal Christliness" because he accepts "everything with animal insightlessness and the childlike faith of innocence" (216). Christ taught that to enter heaven, one must become like a little child (Matt. 18:2-3). Many have inferred from this that, from a Christian perspective, ...


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...W.H. Gilman, eds. The Letters of Herman Melville. New Haven: Yale UP, 1960. Online. Internet. 29 July 1998. Available HTTP: www.melville.org

Howard, Leon. Herman Melville: A Biography. Berkley: U of California P, 1951.

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

- - -. Moby Dick. Ed. Charles Child Walcutt. New York: Bantam, 1981.

Richards, Lawrence O. The Bible Reader's Companion. Wheaton: SP Publications, Inc., 1991.

Sten, Christopher W. "Vere's Use of the 'Forms': Means and Ends in 'Billy Budd.'" On Melville: The Best from American Literature. Ed. Louis J. Budd and Edwin H. Cady. Durham: Duke UP, 1988. 188-202.

Stern, Milton R. The Fine Hammered Steel of Herman Melville. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1968.

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

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