As portrayed in the Bible, Adam and Eve were the perfect human species. This was only a result because of their complete innocence. God let them remain in his presence because of this reason. After the devil conned them into eating fruit from the Tree of Good and Evil they became unclean. In Herman Melvilles Billy Budd the question this apparent: Is innocence and ignorance dominant over knowledge and power?To emphasize the importance of this theme, Melville uses the character Billy Budd. Aboard the ship, the Rights-of-Man, Billy is a cynosure among his shipmates.
He also becomes a leader by setting an example by his innocent ways. He is later transferred to the Indomitable. After waving goodbye to his shipmates, he salutes the ship saying And good-by to you too, old Rights-of-Man (11). Many witnessed this event to be ungrateful to the Indomitable and his role as a member of this ship. While aboard the Indomitable, Billy meets up with John Claggart, the master-at-arms.
Claggarts personality coincides with that of Billys and with the help from Dansker, Billy soon realizes. Billy soon realizes that Claggart is out to get him after he talks to the Dansker. The old man rubbing the long slant scar at the point where it entered the thin hair, laconically said, Baby Budd, Jemmy Legs is down on you (34).
This surprised Billy, because the master-at-arms had been nothing but, what seemed to be, nice to him. Throughout the story, Billy witnesses incidents and threats made by Claggart on other members of the ship. This is just the start of tension between Claggart and Billy. Starry Vere, the captain of the ship, is a man who believes the military duty of ones life must rise above the moral values. And everything must be done in a procedure manner. This contrasted Billys way of life in which he remains pure and quiet about the mutiny aboard ship.After much turmoil, Claggart decides to approach Captain Vere about Billy, accusing him of conspiring to mutiny.
Captain Vere is overwhelmed by this information and does not believe what he is hearing. However, to keep things fair and under control he schedules a conference between the three. After hearing the amazing propaganda that Claggart has presented, Billy becomes speechless and strikes Claggart in the head killing him instantly.
Captain Vere tries to keep military law before morals and decides to hold a trial in which persuades the jury to sentence Billy to death. While the nurse thought Billy was suffering from euthanasia it was obvious that Billys death was not torturous instead it was calm and he seemed to be content. Billy proved to be content with himself, and not afraid to die.
Thus, the question remains, innocence or knowledge? Claggart, is obviously representing evil, the corruption of life, and the struggles one faces everyday. He is the obstacle Billy must conquer, proving that Billys life would have been easier if he had chosen the path of experience and wisdom. Only through virtue and morals can one rise about the evil and make an impact on the lives of others.
Even after Billys death his legend and innocence will live on. He was a true representative of life under total goodness and without the challenge Claggart put out, Billy might not have proved to the world greatness is an important factor in ones everyday life.Bibliography:billy budd analysis