Essay PreviewMore ↓
. . . truth is revealed only when formal order is destroyed. - Dryden, p. 209
Not on your life, says Edgar A. Dryden (though not in so many words, of course) to the above in his splendid Melville's Thematics of Form. His argument is essentially to show that while most readers (erroneously) assume that Captain Vere is the story's tragic hero, the fact of the matter is that a "better" reading will reveal him as Melville's target, if you want to know the "truth."
I want to emphasize at the outset is that EVERYTHING DRYDEN SAYS IS SUPPORTED BY THE TEXT he is analyzing. In other words, he cannot be accused of reading-into! Well, how does Dryden denormalize (as it were) the reading above? Rather simply even if rather spectacularly. Here's as brief a version of Dryden's argument as I can possibly give you: Captain Vere's argument is very formally ordered and highly symmetrical. Furthermore, it is in keeping with this compassionate and wise man's philosophy according to which (as Melville's text tells us) "with mankind forms, . . . measured forms are everything" (84). Interestingly enough, Dryden points out, the published report concerning the whole Budd affair at the end of the story, which is taken from a "naval chronicle of the time," and which thus represents an "authorized" version of the whole affair (85), is also formally ordered and highly symmetrical. The trouble is that this "authorized" account is totally false. According to this version Billy Budd was evil while John Claggart was good, etc. Perhaps, Dryden argues, we may find something in Melville's text that would confirm a suspicion we may already be entertaining - namely, that formally ordered and highly symmetrical arguments may themselves be suspicious. Dryden finds the text in question very close to the one where Captain Vere makes his claim about "measured forms." It reads as follows: "The symmetry of form attainable in pure fiction cannot so readily be achieved in a narration essentially having less to do with fable than with fact. TRUTH UNCOMPROMISINGLY TOLD WILL ALWAYS HAVE ITS RAGGED EDGES" (84; capitals mine).
In contradistinction to Captain Vere's argument or the naval chronicle's "authorized" version, then, Dryden asks us to examine Melville's own way of telling his story. Is it formally ordered and highly symmetrical?
How to Cite this Page
"Free Billy Budd Essays: A Structuralist Reading." 123HelpMe.com. 20 Jan 2020
Need Writing Help?
Get feedback on grammar, clarity, concision and logic instantly.Check your paper »
- A Deconstructive Reading of Billy Budd Billy, who cannot understand ambiguity, who takes pleasant words at face value and then obliterates Claggart for suggesting that one could do otherwise, whose sudden blow is a violent denial of any discrepancy between his being and his doing, ends up radically illustrating the very discrepancy he denies. - Barbara Johnson, p. 86 With Barbara Johnson's splendid Critical Difference we are willy-nilly plunged into deconstruction. At the moment I shall not attempt to explain this radical and highly subversive critical mode, except to say that what you are about to see is an example of it.... [tags: Billy Budd Essays]
1512 words (4.3 pages)
- New Historicism is heavily indebted to deconstruction. One of the most brilliant readings of Billy Budd along these lines is Brook Thomas's reading in Cross Examination of Law and Literature. As its name implies, New Historicism combines an analysis of literary works with whatever historical backdrop is deemed relevant or important to our understanding. The "new" in this historicism has to do, among other things, with the recognition that history (or reality) is itself a kind of construct (or fiction, if you will, in the sense of something made rather than merely stumbled upon by humanity).... [tags: Billy Budd Essays]
826 words (2.4 pages)
- A Structuralist Reading of Austen's Sense and Sensibility The fundamental structural dynamic underlying the whole manifested universe, much less literature, is duality; therefore, Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility is easily analyzed from the structuralist perspective. Each of us is a complex mixture of polar opposites, the most primary of which being the division between right brain and left brain, or, more commonly, "heart and mind." Austen's technique in this novel is that of eliminating altogether the corpus callosum, thus juxtaposing the two halves into a "binary opposition," a split between the heart that throbs and exults and the mind which ascertains and evaluates.... [tags: Austen Sense Sensibility Essays]
615 words (1.8 pages)
- 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.... [tags: Billy Budd Essays]
952 words (2.7 pages)
- 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).... [tags: Billy Budd Essays]
3199 words (9.1 pages)
- An Introduction to a Poet: Billy Collins Billy Collins is one of the most credited poets of this century and last. He is a man of many talents, most recognized though by his provocative and riveting poetry. As John McEnroe was to the sport of tennis, Billy Collins has done the same for the world of poetry. Collin’s rejected the old ways of poetry, created his own form, broke all the rules, and still retains the love and respect of the poet community. Collins has received the title of Poet Laureate of the United States twice and also has received countless awards and acknowledgements.... [tags: Poet Poetry Billy Collins]
1564 words (4.5 pages)
- Triumph of Good over Evil in Billy Budd Herman Melville's Billy Budd is a classic tale of good and evil. Good is constantly attacked by evil - until good falters. Through the use of many literary devices, Melville makes a compelling story and develops his theme. He shows that the good and righteous will triumph over evil at the end, even when the evil is death. The protagonist, Billy Budd, is the major force of good in the book. Billy is a young man who seems to have everything going for him.... [tags: Billy Budd Essays]
1272 words (3.6 pages)
- Reader Reaction to Billy Budd I approached Melville's Billy Budd with a mixture of trepidation and determination. I read the Introduction first, because I thought its purpose was to introduce the author, and place the selected stories in context and I thought this would be an aid to understanding. I was correct, but too correct, because Joyce Carol Oates, without warning of the spoiler, casually references Billy's death. I think this knowledge influenced my reading, because I was aware of the ultimate outcome, I read with the purpose of understanding why that came to be.... [tags: Billy Budd Essays]
1210 words (3.5 pages)
- Billy Budd is a story filled with irony. This literary aspect can be seen through the plot and characters of the work. As defined in The American Heritage Dictionary, irony is the use of words to convey the opposite of their literal meaning. After a casual reading of the story' the many ironic aspects may have been igonred, but after analyzing the story it becomes obvious that they are of great importance. "...The fate of each character is the direct reverse of what one is led to expect from his nature" (Johnson, 185).... [tags: Billy Budd Essays]
609 words (1.7 pages)
- Structuralism Structuralism is a mode of thinking and a method of analysis practiced in 20th-century social sciences and humanities; it focuses on recurring patterns of thought and behaviour – it seeks to analyse social relationships in terms of highly abstract relational structures. Structuralism is distinctly different from that applied to Radcliffe-Brown – it involves more the bio and psychological aspect of human studies rather than social structures. Claude Levi-Strauss was the one to pioneer structuralism; he suggested that cultural phenomena such as myths, art, kinship systems and language display certain ordered patterns or structures.... [tags: Social Sciences Structuralism Essays]
631 words (1.8 pages)
- The Changing of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
- American Gothic in Sleepy Hollow, Ligeia and They Got a Hell of a Band
- A Comparison of Winthrop and Edwards to the Apostles of Christ
- Comparing and Contrasting Self-Awareness in the Works of Emerson, Whitman and Poe
- Role of the Quakers in Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
- Harriet Beecher Stowe, Henry David Thoreau and the Voices of the Oppressed
Not, mind you, that Captain Vere is anything but compassionate and wise. That's precisely what makes him so frightening. Like all figures of authority who have power, he administers justice in the name of the institution that has empowered him in the first place. Everything he says makes sense. And the justice he administers seems (at least superficially) also just. Yet though he is legally right, he is morally wrong. He acts according to the spirit of the letter, which means that he willy-nilly betrays, in a sense, both the spirit and the letter. But Dryden's argument is even more radical and subversive than that. He says "that the 'Athée' [the name of an enemy - that is, French ship - suggesting "godlessness"], nominal symbol of the formless world which Vere fears and despises, is at the same time a perfect representative of the orderly martial world which Vere himself commands [which] suggests that chaos may in fact lurk within the forms themselves" (212; italics mine).