Allegory in Billy Budd

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Herman Melville was an extremely unique author. Although he is most famous for his classic novel, Moby Dick, his shorter and lesser known novella, Billy Budd manages to muster an intense and thought provoking plot. Melville uses the story of an innocent sailor named Billy Budd to formulate an intricate social allegory. Showing firm position, Melville sets up a parallel between the story’s conflict and the moral dilemma for the everyday reader. The story of Billy Budd becomes a fitting example of an allegory, as is becomes a mode of illustration that conveys another meaning that comments on society, not just the literal of a sailor.

From the very beginning, Melville begins to set up the allegory. He starts the story by describing the “Handsome Sailor” that turns out to be the character of Billy, a character that many readers would be able to identify with. Billy begins the story on a boat named The Rights of Man, where he is loved and revered for his hard work. Yet, this reputation as an outstanding sailor soon made it to the ears of the British Navy. Billy is soon impressed on a ship named The Indomitable. This forced move represents a person who has been stripped of his rights. The name of his first boat, The Rights of Man, is made to symbolize a place where one has rights and the ability to choose, while the shift to The Indomitable signifies a move to silence one’s voice, limit one’s choices, and take away a person’s rights. Melville uses the contrast in names to demonstrate the change in Billy’s rights. On this new Navy ship, Billy is faced with a whole new crew, and a good amount of hatred. The character who harbors the most hatred towards Billy is the aged master-at-arms, John Claggart. Claggart accuses Billy of planning a mutiny, and brings the false information to the captain. Once Billy is faced with this information he reacts violently, and kills Claggart. Billy is then given a quick and unjust trial, where he is found guilty and sentenced to death....
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