Major Works Data Sheet
3. Date of Publication:
4. Historical Information:
As divulged to the reader, Billy Budd takes place in 1797 in the midst of the French Revolution. Throughout the mid- 1790s, Britain enacted new quota requirements to enlist 45,000 men in the Royal Navy, which was filled by means of volunteers, the Quota Acts, and most popularly, the impressing of men from merchant ships, as Melville demonstrates. Actual events that occurred in April and May of 1797 were the Spithead and Nore Mutinies, these incidents were offset by the despicable onboard conditions, the severe punishments and increasingly sparse pay while at sea. The pitying British government met the demands of the sailors at the Spithead mutiny; however, the mutinous sailors at the Nore were not so easily won over. Richard Parker was the ringleader behind the plan to not succumb to the government immediately and hold out longer. With this occurrence fresh in mind, it was of Captain Vere’s best intention to prevent mutiny aboard the Bellipotent. 5. Biographical Information About the Author:
Born to Allan and Maria Gansevoort Melvill, on August 1, 1819, Herman Melville was the third of eight children who grew up in New York. By the mid- 1830s, Melville had already started writing, but unfortunately, his family had financial problems, and he had to take a job as a cabin boy on a merchant ship that set sail in June 1839. In January of 1841, he sailed again on a whaler named Acushnet and embarked on an excursion to the South Seas; and later the same year he enrolled on an Australian whaler, Lucy Ann, which anchored Tahiti. These two locations are where he found his inspiration for his first novel, Typee (1846), and his second novel Omoo (1847), which both describe Melville’s somewhat romanticized version of his experiences on these islands. Over the next decade, Melville wrote seven more novels including his now well known Moby Dick or The Whale (1851). In 1866, with the Civil War still on his mind, Melville published his first verse entitled Battle-Pieces and Aspects of the War (1866) and during the last twenty years of his life after losing both of his son’s, he wrote many other stories, sketches, journals, and verses. Melville returned to prose for his final novel, Billy Budd, which was among his manuscripts when he died. 6. Short Plot Summary:
Billy Budd, a young twenty one year old sailor, is forced off his merchant ship Rights-of-Man and is impressed upon the warship, The H. M. S. Bellipotent, a warship. The Handsome Sailor soon meets the devious Master-at-Arms, John Claggart, whom is almost certain that he is up to no good. One day, Billy accidentally spills his soup on Claggart in the mess hall at lunch; however, Claggart assures Billy that everything is fine but really, he is only trying to make a fool out of the Handsome Sailor. After being suspected of plotting a mutiny on the ship, Billy is questioned by the honorable Captain Vere with Claggart present. Claggart starts accusing him, and Billy overcome by his outrage, punches Claggart to the floor unintentionally causing his death. Captain Vere and his highest commanders put the young sailor on trial where he is sentenced to death by hanging. Is Billy innocent or guilty, should he have been put to death? 7. Discuss the author’s diction. How does it enhance the writing?:
Throughout Billy Budd, Melville is able to accurately portray the “human imperfections” in the characters. For Billy, his imperfection is his speech impediment (12-13). Melville so precisely defines the real human nature in each character he goes into detail when describing the person. The author’s diction is so clear and on-the-ball that the reader is able to identify himself with a fictional character. For example, Melville captures a side of Captain Vere that is only revealed to the reader about his daydreaming and the moment...
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