One of the major themes depicted by Herman Melville is the vulnerability of innocence as well as how evil and innocence are contrasted and both of which are considered to be elemental human qualities. Naturally, Billy is presented as childlike; purely innocent who has no knowledge whatsoever concerning evil. On the other hand Claggart is a true replica of pure evil, which cannot be explained except only as blemished constituent of human nature. According to Melville, Claggart had “no power to annul the elemental evil in him, though readily enough he could hide it; apprehending the good, but powerless to be it; a nature . . . like the scorpion for which the Creator alone is responsible.” (Melville 16) Among the many queries raised in the narrative as to whether true innocence can coexist among humanity or will it always be trampled by evil or driven to iniquity in the shape of aggravated response, such as Billy striking Claggart. By tolerating innocence to be dreadfully overwhelmed in Billy Budd, Melville makes it apparent that evil still is still evident in the world and that innocence will forever have to fight against it (Parker 12).
Captain Vere's is in a dilemma on whether to condemn Billy and have him hanged despite the fact that his logic that the young sailor is not guilty is caused by Vere's very nature. Captain Vere is exemplified throughout Billy Budd as a man who pays attention to his duty. Long before the appearance of Captain Vere, the complete depiction of the captain by Rights-of-Man minor character Captain Graveling predicts the more fundamental captain's problem. In his duty, the captain has always been faithful, to a point that the same duty had turned into an obligation.
It is the "dryness" of duty that leads him to have a sense of detachment from feeling or perception. In the novel, duty is portrayed as a being intellectual rather than emotional. In addition, according to Wood Captain Vere is described as having "a marked leaning toward everything intellectual, and never tolerating an infraction of discipline." (Melville 11) He abides by the law and in return he expects his men to follow suit.
Billy Budd does not characterize goodness as much as he does innocence, and the argument linking innocence and evil in this novel is diverse from the difference evident between good and evil. Through the narrator, we realize that Billy is not an idol in the conventional sense. Despite the fact that he has the appealing looks and casual outlook of the model Handsome Sailor, his significant characteristic is excessive gullibility, with no moral potency or audacity. Billy lacks a sufficient consciousness of good and evil to an aid him in choosing goodness willfully, leave alone champion it. For the reason that he is not able to identify evil when tackled by it, he eventually allows Claggart to drag him from being virtuous and into violence.
Early in his life – as a handsome youthful popular sailor, Billy has the only wish of adjusting to the social life around him as well as being well liked. He assumes that no one has grounds to detest him. On the contrary, Claggart is full of deception, distrust, as well as wickedness, and he even infers Billy’s placidity as a treacherous pretense. Claggart seems to obliterate Billy on no particular grounds other than the latter’s innocence. Evil subsists to corrupt innocence, and even despite the fact that Billy kills Claggart; in a sense Claggart achieves a twofold victory over Billy in his own demise. It is Claggart’s actions that cause Billy to fall from both public and ethical grace by committing murder and Billy endure death as a consequence.
Even though numerous characters in Billy Budd possess strong personal consciences; essentially, the individuals on the ship are not capable of trusting trust one another. Subsequently, life aboard the ship is administered by a stringent set of rules, and basically everybody trusts the rules and not the conscience honour of individual in order to ensure that law is maintained order. The distrust that the characters experience stems from the sagacity that evil is persistent and that Evil men such as Claggart seem to be lurking all over the place. Since it is not possible to know for sure whether people’s intents are good or evil, the evil men not only masquerade their own subtle designs, but they also ascribe evil intentions to others. Most conspicuously, Claggart misinterprets Billy’s intent in the soup-spilling occurrence and later plots his downfall (Wood 23).
The Dansker realizes this sort of fraudulence all too well, and as a consequence, he acquires scepticism in his transactions with other people. The Dansker’s discretion may be construed in different ways, but one such conceivable interpretation is that he fails to take direct action against evil men because he fears the cost of facing up to evil directly, thus leaving other fine men like Billy to take care and protect themselves. He may signify people who occupy themselves with roles in order to fit into the social order, by no means totally standing-in on their own impulses and as well as creating a barrier between themselves and the outside world. In this particular reading, Dansker confront an impasse comparable to Vere’s.
Initially the Dansker grows fond of Billy and even tries to help him, but he eventually gives up Billy to the paranoid, claustrophobic world of the ship, where men are detached from their own principles. In Billy Budd, men who deal with the law and men who face up to evil experience comparable consequences, signifying the dark vision that evil and the law are strongly connected (Levine 32).
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Melville is extremely fascinated in the ways in which culture forces citizens to restrain or limit their personality. When the warship Bellipotent hauls out the humble Billy from his previous ship, the Rights-of-Man, the metaphor is realistically explicit: society is supreme, it induces men into chipping in war, and in so doing it can readily allot with the rights of the personality.
Captain Vere’s dilemma when dealing with Billy illustrated how culture requires the partition of one’s inner belief from one’s social commitment. In indicting Billy, Vere make a decision to follow the correspondence of the law, in spite of his own logic that Billy personifies decency and virtue. Feeling the strain of his position as a person in charge as well as with a responsibility to witness as the men obey the Mutiny Act, Vere forces himself to pay no attention to his own feelings about Billy’s condition and even goes a step ahead to urge the other jurors in the case to follow suit (34).
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The narrator’s aim seems to be that the desires of individuals are in general good and advantageous the whole society. Nevertheless, the result of the narrator’s story is more portentous. Even though the British war machine significantly benefits from the person eagerness and partisanship of its sailors, the more dominant the navy becomes, the further it is capable to smother individualism. Indeed, the harsh legislation of the Mutiny Act is passed to contain any additional murmurings of rebels. Melville seems to advocate that eventually, the individual’s effort to declare himself in the face of society will bear out futile.