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Billy Budd as Allegorical Figure
An allegory is a symbolic story. Herman Melville's Billy Budd is
an example of an allegory. The author uses the protagonist Billy Budd to
symbolize a superior being who has a perfect appearance and represents
goodness. Melville shows the reader that a superior being can be an
innocent victim of evil and eventually destroyed. In, Melville's Billy Budd,
the main character is an allegorical figure who symbolizes all goodness in
Billy Budd's image is symbolic. He symbolizes one who is perfect in
appearance. Budd is strong and handsome. He is the center of attention and
compared to the "Handsome Sailor." (THAAL, pg. 2512) Melville uses an
allusion to compare the "Handsome Sailor" and the eye of the constellation
Taurus. His comparison also shows that Billy, like the "Handsome Sailor,"
is popular. Also, the comparison with the "Handsome Sailor" shows Billy as
a handsome character. A comparison is also made between Billy and a "mighty
boxer or wrestler." (THAAL, pg. 2513) The author wants the reader to see
that Billy has strength as well as beauty. He also goes on to make an
allusion between "young Alexander", Alexander the Great, and Billy to
create an image of a powerful figure. (THAAL, pg. 2513) Melville compares
Billy's physical appearance to that of Alexander the conqueror creating an
image of a superior being.
Billy is an "honest soul" and wants simple peace and quiet. (THAAL,
pg. 2514) The simple peace that he seeks may represent the romantic view of
a noble savage, who has goodness because he is untainted by the corruption
in society. Melville has interest in the noble savage and creates Billy
Budd to represent this idea. Billy seems naturally good with no sins in his
character. He lives a simple and serious life. For example, when Claggart
makes fun of him, Billy does not understand the "humor" in his statement.
(THAAL, pg. 2532) Another example that shows Billy's simple character
fearfully witnesses a flogging. Billy has never experienced punishment and
is afraid of this unknown. He is also naive about evil. When told, by the
Dansker, that Claggart, the master at arms, is down on him, Billy is
doubtful of the Dansker's words. He replies by saying: "What for?
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calls me the sweet and pleasant young fellow, they tell me." (THAAL, pg.
2531) Billy does not seem to be aware of the existence of evil.
Billy's execution was a wrongful punishment of a perfect character.
He was "nothing more than innocent." (THAAL, pg. 2536) Claggart, the master
at arms, is a man who represents the evil in Billy Budd. The master at arms,
for an uncertain reason, has something against Billy. Billy never did
anything to Claggart to cause the hatred towards him. He was just an
"innocent victim" of Claggart's hatred. (THAAL, pg. 2536) "Billy's
innocence is as much that of Adam...", It is already known that Claggart
does not like Billy Budd, but he had no reason to lie about him being a man
of mutiny and destroying him. Budd becomes an innocent victim of Claggart's
lies and eventually wrongfully punished for it. The rules of society do not
always favor a perfect and sinless character. Sometimes laws can be unjust.
Melville makes Billy Budd a character whose only problem is being a victim
of evil and living in a microcosm where decisions are made to be fair with
nobody who can judge what is truly fair. Billy's appearance only gives him
attention but unfortunately he also receives Claggart's attention. His
goodness makes him unaware of evil and dying an innocent victim of evil.
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