Monday, October 22, 2012

Billy as a Christ Figure

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Billy Budd, Sailor

Billy is frequently described similar to Christ in both his way and his presence; Melville illustrates him to appear like a religious figure amongst lost men and regulations. He resembles Christ as many different people in his birth he can be looked at as Moses; in his way and doings he can be looked at as Adam before the fall; and finally in his life, purpose and death, Billy resembles Jesus. All three men in which Billy is portrayed are Christ himself. However, in Billy Budd, Billy’s death, which is portrayed similar to that of Christ’s, is intended to symbolize the death of hope for faith and religion.

Moses, the prophet, was born to free the people of Israel and bring them to the Promised Land. He saved them from persecution, maltreatment and ultimately execution. However, it is his birth which is similar to Billy’s � both men were found in a basket. It is evident that Melville deliberately related Billy and Moses, although in reversed situations. In Moses’ case, he was found by the Pharaoh’s daughter and raised rich whereas only Billy’s origins are rich by the implication of silk linen on his basket. These very close resemblances � yet substantial differences � demonstrate the differentiation between a world amid the presence of Christ compared to a faithless one. Although both beginnings seem similar, it is clearly obvious to which has the support of a higher being. Although Billy’s birth is exceptionally similar to Moses’, it is also similar to Adam’s and Jesus’. All three of these religious representatives’ births are unexplained; Adam was created (or basically appeared), Moses was found in a basket and Mary conceived of Jesus simply by the power of the Lord. All three of these extremely important biblical men have no natural account of their births � along with Billy.

At first glance, Billy may look like Christ, however when examined more closely, he resembles Adam before the fall. All of Billy’s intentions are in the right place but it is his knowledge of the world � of good and evil � that is critically lacking. Billy believes in the good in man and does not quite comprehend evil doings or evil people; he is rather na├»ve and most certainly innocent. “Billy Budd was like a young horse fresh from the pasture suddenly inhaling a vile whiff from some chemical factory, and by repeated snortings tries to get it out of his nostrils and lungs.” (chapter 15, pg ) This undeniable incapacity to comprehend the significance and consequences of evil eventually takes his life. Billy is born, raised and dies as pure as Adam before his irreversible sin. Adam symbolizes the first man to fail God, whereas in this case, God � if any � fails Billy. If Billy symbolizes any form of religious figure, he has as many chances of survival on board of the Bellipontent as a seed on a dry path. His death signifies the fall of any possible purity.

The noble sailor, despite being a common man, holds many of Jesus’ characteristics and morals. Above all else, Billy is a peacemaker and a believer in truth. He has the patience to deal with everyone in his environment and the strength to make friends. His love for those around him and his faith in someone’s word embraces the same qualities which Jesus devoted his life to preach. Billy’s ability to sincerely forgive those who have wronged him is beyond imaginable and incredibly honest. At the moment of his final hour, Billy exclaims, ‘God bless Captain Vere,’ being unmistakably similar to Jesus’, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” (Luke 4)

When referred to Billy’s physical appearance, Melville exaggerates him to create a ‘larger than life’ character. The same can to seen in terms of Jesus; over time he has become a mystical figure and which makes it barely possible to consider him as a man who once walked the earth. Nonetheless, Billy’s and Jesus’ purposes are remembered, particularly the peace and harmony they offered to those they crossed. Whether aboard the Rights of Man or the Bellipotent, whether in Rome or in Jerusalem, these men brought peace and forgiveness along their way.

By the time of their last breaths, both Billy and Jesus are sacrificed by their ‘fathers,’ for the sake of those around them. Their deaths are used as a threat to the others to ensure stability. Ironically, Jesus’ death signifies hope for an eternal life where as Billy’s defeats the mere idea of hope. Christ sacrificed his son to deliver those from evil. Jesus’ death opened the gates of heaven for everyone to enter and to rejoice at the start of a new life. His death is a reminder of love, hope and faith; it is a reassurance of a fair trail on judgment day. Judas’ betrayal of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane or Claggart’s betrayal of Billy are perfect examples of acts of evil against fair men.

Billy’s death, on the other hand, is an example of the hardships of war and of the darkness man has created. The execution proves and reinforces the effects of a Godless world; it is reflected in the men and in their laws. “But let not warm hearts betray heads that should be cool.” (Chapter 1, pg 6) However, Billy’s is death was necessary for the control of the remaining men and the elimination of evil thoughts. By condemning him to death, Vere condemned the warmth of hope to an end. The reign of terror thus prevailed. Melville deliberately created a divine image of Billy on the mount before his hanging to portray the sacrifice of Christ � of sole tenderness. It generates a very dramatic affect on Billy’s death and on the situation; it is an extremely clear identification of all that is at wrong.

On board of the Bellipontent, Billy is a symbol of hope and of faith. Upon his arrival he makes friends and confronts his enemy. He brings peace and happiness amongst the men and as a consequence, the officers. Billy can either be considered as a gift or as a test. It is possible that Melville has sent Billy to the ship as a last resource of hope in a dreadfully gloomy time, to show that among the odds, hope will shine through. To the men, Billy is an true breath of fresh air. He lightens the ship and the sailor’s attitudes, succeeding at his apparent purpose. Conversely, Billy can also be seen as a test and as a proof. By his means, Melville demonstrates that mere hope or even faith has no chance of survival in such conditions. “… I am not certain to know the world and to know human nature be not two distinct branches of knowledge, which while they may coexist in the same heart, yet either may exist with little or nothing of the other.” (Chapter 11, pg 4) He shows that men and institutions have destroyed Christ and his doings, unknowingly but carelessly. By failing Billy, the crew � or more precisely the authorities � destroy their only chance at a lighter life. Billy achieves his purpose but his purpose fails him. He is as test that was never meant to pass, but one that will be remembered.

In a world where men are guided by institutions, hope often holds no chance. Melville implies Billy as a Christ figure to test the outcome in a modern but stained civilization. It has become apparent that faith, or religion, is chased away by the law and regulations and reinforced by its followers. The killing of an ‘angel’ is the ultimate crime yet proof that God has no place. Corruption, evil and betrayal have outshined love, hope and faith.

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