Good vs. Evil in “Billy Budd”
There has always been an unrelenting struggle between good and evil. Herman Melville’s “Billy Budd” delves into the conflict that exists between natural innocence and goodness, evident through the characterization of Billy Budd, and the deceptiveness of evil, represented by the character John Claggart. Characterization is used to differentiate between good and evil. Billy Budd is portrayed as a very pure Christ-like character before his demise. Billy Budd is "like a young horse fresh from the pasture suddenly inhaling a vile whiff from some chemical factory". Conversely, Claggart's “silken jet curls... and pallor tinged with a faint shade of amber skin" denote evil. Billy Budd's innocence is eradicated at the hands of his depraved adversary, John Claggart, "much such as Adam presumably might have been ere the urbane Serpent wriggled himself into his company." As a youthful, handsome, and popular sailor, Billy Budd only wants to be liked and well-adjusted from a social standpoint. Claggart, on the other hand, full of deception, distrust, and malice, seems to destroy Billy Budd for no reason other than his innocence. Claggart takes a satanic role in that he tempts Billy Budd to commit the sin of rebellion. Claggart’s actions cause Billy Budd to fall from both social and moral grace by committing murder, and Billy Budd suffers death as a consequence. His white garb, and natural glowing of light makes his death seem symbolic for good. Claggart's death completely contrasts with the pure death of Billy Budd. Innocence, embodied in Billy Budd, is paired off against evil and depravity, personified in John Claggart. Billy Budd’s naivety allows him to fall victim to Claggart's malice and treachery. Melville’s leaving Claggart's background a mystery reinforces the idea that he represents a lurking, mesmerizing evil.
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