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Herman Melvilles Billy Budd and Ralph Waldo Emersons Self Reliance - Book Report/Review Example

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Herman Melville, in his final work (and left unpublished until after his death), Billy Budd, is a novella that does much to exemplify the depravity of human nature and spiritual uncleanliness…
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Herman Melvilles Billy Budd and Ralph Waldo Emersons Self Reliance
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Download file to see previous pages More, after reading Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Self Reliance, there becomes a parallel between the two works that suggest similar ideologies about the human spirit and the functionality of self reliance. With that said, a close look will be taken into the character of Billy Budd to identify how he can be seen as the personification of Emerson’s theories, and more, to define the societal issues of the depravity of human nature.
To begin with, Billy Budd is a unique story in that has often been interpreted as an allegory because it intimates of the ultimate battle between good and evil: Billy is the innocent while Claggart is the dramatic representation of pure evil, the true depravity tainting human nature. Billy Budd is the epitome of perfection, a man “with no perceptible trace of the vainglorious about him, rather with the off-hand unaffectedness of natural regality” (Melville 2). And further, “the moral nature was seldom out of keeping with the physical make” (5). He is the perfect specimen of humanity, a man good both inside and out, a man that others look up to, a man that others want to become—and more, a man that evil wants to destroy because of the profound affect that someone of his nature can have on humankind.
Now, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Self Reliance offers unique doctrine that wasn’t often seen in his time, and even now, people regard as new-age, unfathomable forays into the mysterious world of self-discovery where the person learns to trust their inner guide, become a strong and independent human being, and to stop relying (utterly and in every way possible) on others to create or manifest things that can be achieved by oneself. In many ways, he is calling out the educational system (and the way in which mankind is educated, in general) because he is relating education to the stifling of man’s inherent independence for intellectual thought and ability to think without being told to do so. The difficulty, here, is that Emerson’s words are so profound and spiritually transcendent, that most people gloss over the deeper meaning and read the essay as spiritual dogma that can’t be literally interpreted without offending one’s own religion. Emerson writes that “society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members…the virtue in most request is conformity. Self-reliance is its aversion” (163-165). The world of Billy Budd is similar in that there is a distinct barrier between those who can think and do for themselves and those who only follow the societal mores and implied rules of conformity and sendentation. For this main reason, Billy is targeted by the evil nature of Claggart, who not only sees Billy as a threat, but notices his self-reliant nature and ability for moral righteousness without strain or conflict. And just as in Emerson’s essay, Billy is castigated for his moral and spiritual awareness. Because, “for nonconformity, the world whips you with its displeasure” (Emerson 179). He is targeted by Claggart and punished because he is different and refuses to conform to societal rules and mores that place the individual on the path of darkness and compliance. A world in which the high-road is the road never taken because the effort required is too high, and more, the world of Billy Budd is one in which people are unable to think for themselves because the rulings and thoughts of others is more than sufficient enough for the meagerness of their depraved lives. In looking at both works, a clearer parallel would be difficult to make. For all intents and purposes, Emerson could be using the character of Billy Budd as his model human being when defining how human should trust their inner feelings and stand up for their personal beliefs. For Emerson, Claggart is the ‘ ...Download file to see next pages Read More
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