Billy Budd

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Billy Budd by Herman Melville fits into both categories of tragedy, classic and modern. This story fits into both Aristotle’s and Arthur Miller’s concepts of tragedy. Billy Budd is this story’s tragic hero and its his actions that determine how this story fits into both categories.The classic definition of tragedy is Aristotle’s, that the tragic hero must be noble and have a tragic flaw. He must also experience a reversal of fortune and recognize the reason for his downfall. This couldn’t be any more like Billy’s story. Billy played was a respected and loved sailor with an embarrassing stutter, but was accused of conspiring to stage a mutiny. This changes Billy’s life dramatically resulting in him to kill an officer, and sentenced to death. Before he is executed though he blesses the man who sentenced him to death, which tells the reader that he had forgiven him and understands why he must be killed. Aristotle’s definition says a tragedy should have “incidents arousing pity and fear”. The incident with Claggart must have certainly caused the reader to pity him and to fear how Captain Vere would handle Billy. The modern concept of tragedy is that of Arthur Miller’s, that the audience feels and fears for the characters so much that it is as if they are the characters themselves. The characters finally meet their tragic end, and the audience witnesses and understands their end. This applies to Billy mostly because of his likeability. The readers come to love Billy as his fellows sailors do. He is completely innocent and naive at the same time. The readersees his weakness and comes to feel sorry for Billy the way one might for a child. The reader sympathizes with Billy especially when he is confronted by Claggart and can do nothing, but stutter. The reader is with Billy throughout and witnesses his transformation at the end. In this fashion, Billy Budd is both a classic and modern tragedy....
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