Stung by the difficult reception of Moby Dick, Herman Melville became obsessed with the difficulties of communicating his vision to readers. His sense of isolation lies at the heart of these later works.
Billy Budd, Sailor
The other stories also illuminate the way fictions are created and shared by society. If Melville had never written Moby Dick , his place in world literature would be assured by his short tales. Melville also explores this theme in "Bartelby the Scrivener," his famous story about a Wall Street law clerk who takes passive resistance to a comic--and ultimately disastrous--extreme; and in "Benito Cereno," his dazzling account of oppression and rebellion on a nineteenth-century slave ship.
Completing this collection of great tales are the eerie "The Encantados," the beautiful, romantic "The Piazza," and Melville's chilling science fiction parable, "The Bell-Tower. American novelist, essayist and poet Herman Melville is eminent for his timeless works. He wrote short stories, journals and sketches based on his travels. His writings expose diverse dimensions of fiction and patriotism that are presented in a lively manner.
Convert currency. Add to Basket. View all copies of this ISBN edition:. Synopsis About this title Stung by the difficult reception of Moby Dick, Herman Melville became obsessed with the difficulties of communicating his vision to readers.
From the Publisher : If Melville had never written Moby Dick , his place in world literature would be assured by his short tales. Buy New Learn more about this copy. Other Popular Editions of the Same Title. Search for all books with this author and title.
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Customers who bought this item also bought. Stock Image. Published by Bantam USA New Paperback Quantity Available: 2. Seller Rating:. In contrast, the captain of the Bellipotent, the ship to which Billy is taken, champions the rights of the state above the rights of man. The story thus echoes a controversy that was a subject of significant debate at the time. On the one side were thinkers like Paine, who believed that the rights of the individual came first; on the other were followers of another English writer, Edmund Burke , who argued that the rights of the individual must be sacrificed in the interest of the state.
Burke held that in organized society the freedom of the individual needed to be given up in trust to leaders of the government so that they could preserve the liberty of all its citizens.
A strict set of regulations governed the behavior of the sailors, and punishments were much harsher for naval offenses than they were in civilian law. The navy demanded a slavish type of obedience from the sailors it employed. If he failed to acknowledge this and play by the rules, he risked not only his own destruction but also the destruction of his entire nation.
This general belief led to laws and punishments designed to achieve complete discipline on board a vessel. In the Duke of York limited the number of lashes that could be administered at any single whipping to three hundred, but a man could still receive them for even a minor offense. Following the American Revolution in the late s, hostile feelings between the United States and England persisted. Because of the harsh conditions on British ships during the war against France, many Englishmen deserted to positions on American ships.
British navy ships began searching for deserters among American crews in the hopes of recapturing them for service in the war against France. In the process, British ships impressed many sailors who had left England years earlier and become American citizens. British seamen seemed to ignore the outcome of the American Revolution , acting as if the Americans were not independent.
Some British navy captains, desperate for men, took many American citizens who were not even former British subjects. The years and witnessed two events that shook the British navy to its core. In a mutiny of British navymen took place at Spithead in southern England. They staged an unprecedented insurrection that proved difficult to squelch. Order was eventually restored, but three years later an even greater insurrection began with the mutiny at Nore, a theater for naval operations on the east coast of England.
Although the incident at Spithead had been forgotten by naval officers, the rebellious sailors had not forgotten their demands for improvements, which had been neglected after the resolution of the initial uprising at Spithead; this resentment over the unmet demands served as the major factor in the revolt at Nore in In Billy Budd, the narrator repeatedly refers to these two mutinies. They are regarded as symbols of a revolutionary spirit that prompts men to rise up against real abuses. Melville uses , the year of the Nore Mutiny, as the setting for his novel: combined with the ongoing conflict with France, the mutiny provides the perfect background of unrest, conspiracy, and violence for his story of human cruelty and morality.
Billy Budd is a young sailor aboard a small merchant ship departing from England.
The ship is boarded in a routine inspection by officers from the navy ship HMS Bellipotent, which desperately needs additional sailors. Judging Billy to be capable of the job, the officers immediately impress him into service and take him aboard the Bellipotent. Once aboard the gunship, Billy quickly becomes a favorite of the crew because of his innocent good looks and his easy, carefree nature. Claggart makes false accusations against Billy concerning his orderliness and uses every opportunity to reprimand Billy for minor infringements of discipline.
Young Billy, unaware that Claggart is the manipulator of these events, actually believes that Claggart is one of his best allies on the ship. Billy is outraged, and his indignation proves so great that he reveals a flaw in his seemingly perfect composure.
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Shortly after this affair, Claggart tells Captain Vere, the commander of the ship, that he believes Billy is involved in a plot to foment a mutiny aboard the Bellipotent. Although he does not know Billy personally, Captain Vere is flabbergasted to think that the likable young sailor could. Shocked and outraged, Billy is rendered absolutely speechless. He desperately strives to speak but can barely stutter a single syllable.
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Claggart crumples to the cabin floor and dies from the awesome blow, which shocks Captain Vere. Vere, who witnessed the killing with his own eyes, feels obligated to charge Billy with murder, and under the provisions of the naval code, this charge means the death penalty for Billy. Despite his desire to save Billy, Vere cannot bend the rules of the sea.
Vere later receives a deathly wound in a sea battle. Herman Melville was very familiar with the popular epic poem Paradise Lost by John Milton also covered in Literature and Its Times , which details the fall of man according to the Christian faith. In his novel, Melville seems to be sharing his own personal version of this fall in a way that reveals his views on humanity and religion in the last year of his life.
He compares Billy to an innocent, a character like Adam or Jesus; Claggart to Satan; and Captain Vere to a Godlike father who sits in judgment over the innocent and the guilty. Later, however, the innocent Billy commits murder and is found guilty of the crime.