Character list of Billy Budd

I am almost done reading Herman Melville's short novel, "Billy Budd". The following is a character list from the novel, and my interpretation of each character:

Billy Budd: Billy is the protagonist of the story. In a Christian allegory interpretation of the book, Billy would represent Jesus. Billy has a nature of almost pure innocence. He is well liked by most people. He trusts people and actions at their face value, eventually leading to his demise. Some would call Billy Budd gullible, or perhaps naive. He simply does not have experience or understanding of true evil. It is an interesting question as to whether this type of innocence is an asset or a liability. In this world, and in particular in this story, it definitely seems like a liability. But, if one has a more transcendent view, Bill's innocence seems to always lead him to peace, and would lead him to salvation. By the end of the story, as Billy hangs, I found myself not feeling sorry for him, but feeling in awe of him, and his righteous forgiveness of captain Vere, who felt compelled to condemn him. This scene brings to mind Jesus hanging on the cross, forgiving his executioners, and Stephen being stoned doing likewise. Although Billy lived only 21 years, it is easy to interpret his life as fulfilled through the vitality he exhibited daily.

Captain Vere: If I felt in awe of Billy, I felt empathy for Captain Vere. I was moved by the guilt that he felt after condemning Billy to hang. Throughout history and literature, there are characters that place societal law and order above their own moral conscience. Pontious Pilate is the prime example from the Christian tradition. These characters are tormented by their offices of leadership. They attempt to justify actions that they know to be morally wrong by claiming the need of such actions for the good of society. This attempt at justification ultimately fails, leaving the condemner with a feeling of irreversible guilt. Another example that comes to mind is the scene in the movie "Glory" where Matthew Broderick's character, the Colonel, orders the flogging of Denzel Washington's character, a black soldier that was caught deserting. Even though the colonel knows that the soldier was just searching for food, and that he is indeed one of the best soldiers in the group, he orders the flogging because it is necessary under military law.

John Claggart: Claggart is the clear villian of the story. He burns with envy so that even his physical appearance is affected by it. Melville portrays him as the most dangerous kind of man because he is naturally evil. In other words, no action or inaction on Billy's part causes Claggart's dislike of him. Claggart hates Billy Budd for no rational reason. Worse yet, he is able to mask his hatred through an appearance toward Budd of congeniality. In the Christian allegory, Claggart is no less than Satan himself, or pure, natural evil. He seeks to destroy innocence and goodness simply because they are innocent and good. He is intelligent, and he perceives that he can never rid himself of his hatred, therefore he contrives a way to justify it and act upon it. In the end, Claggart eventually bests Billy, not by instigating the hanging of Billy, but by prodding Billy into abandoning his innocence by wrathfully striking out at another human being. Right before Billy strikes Claggart, Melville writes that his face was "like a crucifixion to behold." This marks the end of his innocence. His innocence is "crucified" when he strikes Claggart dead.


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