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Comparing Billy Budd And The Life Of Melville

1508 words - 6 pages

Parallels Between Billy Budd and the Life of Melville

 As with many great works of literature, it is important to become familiar with the author's life and time period in which he or she lived. This understanding helps to clarify the significance and meaning of his or her work. In many ways, Billy Budd depicts issues of importance to Herman Melville with both direct and indirect parallels to the time of the Civil War and to particular individuals of Melville's life. Important to the creation of Billy Budd were the war, current politics, slavery, and even the assassination of President Lincoln. This essay intends to identify the analogous relationship between these incidences and the particular individuals of Melville's life that inspired him to write Billy Budd.

Melville seems to have lived a life that was inevitably centered around war and politics. His grandparents were fighters during the Revolutionary War and Melville was of age 42 when the Civil War erupted. Melville also spent a large part of his life as a sailor. Although he never participated in the war in any official capacity, we see evidence of how the Civil War was of glaring significance in his life by examining Billy Budd and most of his other works.

Politics were an important factor in the life of Herman Melville. Although he was known to never vote, he held tenaciously to his socio-political opinions. During that time, it was common for politics to be a big topic of family discussion as common political beliefs were strengtheners of the American family. Around then, major dissension existed between the Democrats and the Republicans. Also, families lived and behaved according to a particular faction's ideals. The Melville family generally shared the same political beliefs.

Melville was a private and secretive man, which makes it difficult for researchers to specifically define his own political ideology. The majority of the personal letters he received were thrown away. If he ever kept a journal, its whereabouts is unknown. It is known, however, that he and his family were Democrats and supported the Union. While he had a great respect for Southerners, he disagreed with slavery and unjust treatment of others. He strongly opposed Republican views.

The Civil War affected more than just his political ideals. Religiously speaking, it appears as if Melville was suffering an internal religious struggle of sorts. As could be expected with any religious person that lives through a war, he came to question God and His existence. His religious beliefs were being put to a test. He grew to believe that God was cold and indifferent for allowing the disparities of war to take place. We will see later how the struggle between the good and evil within him parallels the struggle depicted throughout Billy Budd

Also significant to Melville's thoughts on the Civil War were his views on the advancement of technology. He distrusted progress and, in many ways, wanted to hold...

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