Billy Budd by Herman Melville

The story, Billy Budd, by Herman Melville embodies many themes. The same story has also been the subject of many different interpretations because of these themes. One of the more popular interpretations has to do with the many different allusions to the holy Christian bible. Billy has often been interpreted as Adam from the book of Genesis, while his counterpart, Claggart, has often been compared to the serpent in the Garden of Eden or as Satan. The reason for this comparison has to do with the sacrifice that Billy makes at the end of the story.

Good natured and kind hearted, Billy becomes the innocent victim of a harsh society. In order to make this portrayal, however, it is necessary to briefly discuss the trials and tribulations that Billy endured. The goodness of Billy is highlighted more during the times when Claggart tries to tempt Billy in committing dastardly acts and deeds of evil; the temptations that Claggart dangles in Billy’s way show Claggart’s different attempts to destroy the character of Billy. This is analogous to the situation in the Garden of Eden where the Serpent tries to deceive Adam into taking the fruit of the forbidden tree.

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The description of Claggart’s dead body as it lies lifeless in the form of a snake reinforces this point. This is an important characterization that is used well in the story as it makes it easier for the readers to identify one of the many themes that are embedded in Billy Budd. Without these comparisons to Adam, the innocence and the tragedy of the downfall of Billy would not be as highlighted as they are in the story. The sacrifice that Billy makes in the end becomes the haunting image of how a hostile society can corrupt the lives and minds of the innocent ones.

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