Billy Budd is a novel written by Herman Melville. The novel is considered one of the greatest written in English. In this novel, Melville features an innocent man Billy Budd the sailor, twenty one years of age, who is not able to defend himself upon any wrongful accusation. Billy is good looking as Melville calls him “the handsome sailor”. With his nature, he is noticed to create a form of excitement in men including his fellow sailors. Master-at-Arms John Claggart is another character featured by Melville. He is an officer and is seen to be of different character from Billy. Despite this, Claggart has personal issues with Billy. The desire he has for Billy is later replaced by something darker. He has motives which include destroying what he can’t have, Billy’s innocence and purity.
In the novel Billy Budd, various themes are portrayed. These themes throughout the novel reveal the various characters of Billy and Claggart. Good and evil is one of the themes Melville brings to our attention. It’s evident that Billy is a good man and his innocence brings out his beauty and charisma. Melville goes an extra mile to describe Billy as “Adam before the fall” .In the Bible, Adam before his fall was a good man as described. With this outstanding character Billy is liked by many. Also in many occasions Melville regards him as a barbarian in the positive sense. On the other hand, Claggart is of evil character. Melville in different occasions likens him to Satan. Claggart’s hatred arises from Billy’s goodness.
Billy, regarded as the handsome sailor has a fascinating character that attracts the attention of many people. Melville calls him “welkin-eyed” as his eyes were blue in color. He goes farther to describing athletic and beautiful body. Billy is physically beautiful. Lieutenant Ratcliff chooses Billy because of his rare quality without having to wait for all other men to arrive on the deck for inspection. Billy is physically powerful but due to his naivety characterized by his innocence he does not know it. Billy excites desire in different men in different ways. The attraction is a kind of hero-worship or for a distinct form of trait. In the novel, another character, Captain Vere suggests a promotion for Billy so that he can be able to observe him (Billy) more often. This desire for Billy results to serious development of lust in Claggart which is later traced to be the basis for his hatred.
Fate as a theme is observed in the novel. Billy perishes later as a result of his critical decisions. Viewed from a different angle, his choices were the favorite he could make considering his inexperience and his character. Claggart’s secret obsessions can be used to bring out the theme of isolation. The theme is also expressed in Billy’s innocence and weakness of expressing his thoughts.
Billy and Claggart have contrasting characters. Claggart is a complete opposite of Billy. Billy’s innocence, good looks and likening has positive impact on those surrounding him. Many want to relate with him. Claggart’s hatred and excessive lust does not earn him much. Melville despises him. He is a character that wouldn’t be appreciated by many.