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Billy Budd as Christ
In this novel, Billy Budd, Melville acts as a "Creator", in that he gives Billy Budd certain superhuman qualities, which allows him to posses the traits of a servant of God. Billy Budd appears Christ-like, because of his peace-making abilities. Although, he is a peacemaker whom will fight for what he believes in and to keep peace.
In the beginning of the novel, when Red Whiskers gives Billy Budd problems, he strikes him with a powerful blow and does not have any more problems with him or the crew again. Melville then foreshadows how Billy will use the same tactics the next time he runs into a bully like Red Whiskers. It seems ironic of the names of the ships as we go along in the story. Billy Budd goes from the Rights-of-Man to Bellipotent, it seems then he makes a change like a minister being ordained to a Bishop. Bellipotent signifies a good ship, in that belli- means kind, and -potent means strong and powerful. Melville seems to want his audience to think of the ships as Christ-like symbols also. As in another story, Young Goodman Brown by Hawthorne, a young man is too eager to meet his destiny. Billy Budd is not at the least hesitant, when Lieutenant Ratcliffe wants him for service to King George Ill. Billy Budd goes from a peaceful merchant ship, to a ship at war, full of guns and military discipline. Melville is suggesting here that Billy will most like endure many problems and hardships entering this service. Billy Budd acts as the foretopman on this ship, which leads the audience to wonder is he doing it out of the grace of God, to make a change on the ship, or is he toying with fate.
At the time this novel took place, wars were going on, which was later called the Great Mutiny (a time when sailors rebelled against their own). That explains most of the story Melville is attempting to display. Melville introduces Captain Vere as a dedicated officer who only permits obedience to duty and is very strict with discipline. The author has already foreshadowed many things for the audience. He lets us see how Billy is bound to run into a confrontation with at least one shipmate, and may possibly be accused of mutiny, since the thoughts are already on many officers' minds.
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Eventually Billy does meet an enemy, John Claggart, but is not fully aware of it. Claggart envies Billy, because he is young, handsome, and innocent. Melville suggests Claggart represents evil (the Devil) and Billy represents good (God). This also relates to King Saul's envy of David after he creates a name for himself and threatens the king in front of his people. When Squeak, a corporal aboard ship, instigates and lies on Billy Budd to Claggart, it tend to cause more tension between Billy and Claggart. Claggart finally falls through on his attempt to ruin Billy when he sends an afterguardsman to offer Billy a bribe for his part in a mutiny attempt, Billy refuses and threatened to throw the man overboard. When Billy confides in his old, wise friend, the Dansker, who has already warned Billy that Claggart is out to get him, Billy does not tell him all of the story. Later, Claggart instigates and tells Captain Vere that Billy Budd planned a mutiny attempt against the them, with other sailors. When confronted in front of the captain and Claggart, Billy gets overexcited, panics, and hits Claggart so hard in the head, it knocks him out and kills him. Billy still held back the whole truth from the captain and everyone else and was sent to court. Although the captain knew of Billy's innocence, he did not want to take the chance of losing his respect and attitude of discipline. He did however want to delay judgment until the ship rejoined the squadron. In court, Billy apologized for the death, but did not want to involve the afterguardsman, so he remained the guilty party. Captain Vere's testimony does not help Billy at all, but hurts him more. The guilty verdict and the hanging of Billy leaves the audience to thinking, "What will happen next?". Melville has suggested hypocrisy in Claggart and even the captain. Claggart's death is dignified. Before Billy dies he says, "God bless Captain Vere!" Implying that Captain Vere did not realize what he has done, but may God bless him when he receives his punishment. The purser, whom earlier protested Billy being sent to court, implies Billy suffered from euthanasia(act of painlessly ending the life of a person for reasons of mercy). Here Melville gives the act of a romantic, who disapproves of the form and structure of the court.
When the Bellipotent was heading for the English fleet, they encountered the French battleship Athee, which is called the Atheist. Now Melville is bringing religion in again, in that, an Atheist is someone who does not believe in God. The Bellipotent defeats the French ship, but Captain Vere is badly wounded. He dies with the words "Billy Budd, Billy Budd." on his mouth. The place where Billy was hanged, became a monument that signified Jesus dying on the Cross.
Rumors started about what happened on the ship, and lies were spread. This signifies everyone not knowing the real truth of Billy's innocence. At the end of this novel Melville seems to compare Billy's treatment to Jesus when he was on earth, and how although he was innocent, he was crucified for it. Melville ties in his beliefs of religion to this novel, in comparing various events to those in the Bible.