Character Sketch of Billy Budd - Essay Example

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Billy Budd is amiable. Too good, and ‘unfit’ to be a sailor in a merchant ship, “Rights-of-Man,” to which he is inducted against his will! This handsome young man has a sterling personality that attracts instantly. …
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Character Sketch of Billy Budd
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Download file to see previous pages “Melville raises the issue at the beginning of Billy Budd with his description of the “Handsome Sailor.” (x)His fellow sailors call him “Baby Budd.” His goodness has no artificiality and he is rustic and inarticulate. His emotions impact him and he is unable to exercise control over them when he stutters. The story is important from the point of view of military jurisprudence. “Billy Budd is taught in law schools for its legal questions.”(xii) Budd switching over from merchant ship to military service is not by choice.
British Empire is in a state of war-alert to meet the threat from the adventurous Napoleon and menacing revolutionary fervor from France. Navy is in the forefront of prosperity and defense of Britain and impressments or forced conscriptions are order of the day to fill the vacancies. Lieutenant Ratcliffe selects only, “welkin-eyed Billy Budd (3) for impressment and he is his “first spontaneous” (3) choice. He judges the capacity of Billy to keep his men in good spirits and to pep up their psyche in times of stress of war. Lieutenant’s decision is final. What master says about Billy Budd to Lieutenant, is the ultimate certificate about his personality. “I was worried to that degree my pipe had no comfort for me. But Billy came; and it was like a catholic priest striking peace in an Irish shindy. Not that he preached to them or said or did anything in particular; but a virtue went out of him, sugaring the sour ones.”(5)As he leaves what he sings proves to be prophetic, “And goodbye to you too, old Rights-of-Man" (7) Billy begins his new innings.
Melville writes about the qualities of head and heart of Billy Budd, “… [t]here was nothing this honest soul at heart loved better than simple peace and quiet.”(4) Officers and other ranks like his pleasant disposition and he brings cheer to the hearts of the weathered sailors. Master-at-arms, John Claggart pays special attention to him. Claggart plays his dual role with the shrewdness of an Officer (In real terms not befitting his rank) in relation to Billy and this innocent man falls in to his trap as he is not in a position to safeguard his own genuine interests. Internally Claggart does not like the goodness of Billy and goodwill he is able to generate in the ranks and officers. The inherent conflict with good and evil comes to the surface, and he creates issues for Billy through his corporals. For every deviation from protocol and regulation, unintended though, Billy is reprimanded. But in front of Billy he pretends goodness of heart and has kind words for him. A wise, experienced old sailor warns Billy of the hidden agenda of Claggart and that he hates Billy and he plans to harm. Melville writes about the advice tendered to Billy, “…because he’s down upon you, Baby Budd. Such reiteration, along with the manner of it, incomprehensible to a novice.”(36)The good-hearted Billy disbelieves him. Why should Claggart be jealous of him? Claggart’s hatred for Billy has crossed all limitations and the master-at-arms approaches Captain Vere with his mutiny theory and the Captain is aghast. Melville writes, “In sum, Captain Vere had from the beginning deemed Billy Budd to be what in the naval parlance of the time was called a “King’s bargain.”(66) The picturesque description of the accusation, that goes to prove the popularity and trust that Billy Budd enjoyed among the rank and file and the higher-ups in command, except Claggart, is given thus by the author: “William Budd!” Captain Vere with unfeigned astonishment.”(65) “The same, your honor; but for all his youth and good looks, a deep one. That good-humored air marks his resentment. You ...Download file to see next pagesRead more
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