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Good and Evil in Billy Budd Essay

Contrast Between Good and Evil in Billy Bud Since the beginning of time, there has always been a tenacious struggle between good and evil. In a particular famous book, The Bible, the continuous clash between good and evil remains evident throughout the work. In Herman Melville’s novel, Billy Budd, symbolism, characterization, and irony are put to use to develop the dramatic contrast between good and evil. Symbolism is used to directly contrast good and evil. The night before Billy’s hanging, “through the rose-tan of his complexion no pallor could have shown. “

Billy portrays a very pure Christ-like character before his demise. His white garb, and natural glowing of light makes his death seem symbolic for good. Claggort “who’s brow was of the sort phrenologically associated with more than average intellect” symbolically manipulated Billy Budd as did the “wisdom of the serpent” manipulate Adam. Evil always tries to antagonize what is good. Therefore, Claggort was Billy’s antagonist throughout Billy Budd. Also symbolic to the novel is the actual demise of both Claggort and Billy Budd.

Claggort’s death is very short and appropriate “to his navel grade. ” In contrast, Billy’s death occurs during the dawn where ” Billy ascended; and ascending took the full rose of the dawn. ” Claggort’s death completely contrasts with the pure death of Billy Budd. Billy’s death is portrayed as good, conquering, and symbolic, which directly foils that of Claggort’s. Not only using symbolism, Melville also uses characterization to contrast good and evil. Characterization is used to contrast the concepts of good and evil.

Billy Budd is “like a young horse fresh from the pasture suddenly inhaling a vile whiff from some chemical factory. ” Billy’s innocence and purity is exterminated at the hands of his main enemy, John Claggort, ” much such as Adam presumably might have been ere the urbane Serpent wriggled himself into his company. ” Claggort’s ” silken jet curls… and pallor tinged with a faint shade of amber skin” even denote evil. Dark traits are often used to express evil, as light and beauty to express good.

In contrast to Claggort, Billy Budd’s “welkin-eyes”, blonde hair, and tan complexion ultimately portray good. Besides from the use of characterization and symbolism, Melville uses irony to portray the battle of good versus evil. Irony is used to contrast the concepts of good and evil. Billy, ” the fighting peacemaker” kills John Claggort with a blow “quick as the flame from a discharged cannon. ” It is ironic that Billy, this innocent Christ like character loses his composure and ultimately does something evil. Through out the novel Billy Budd is never aware of Claggort’s ill will towards him.

Even when warned, ” Jemmy legs is down on you,” Billy still can not grasp the concept that evil can happen to him, so when it does he doesn’t know how to react. It is ironic that right before Billy’s hanging, he shouts “God Bless Captain Vere” even though Vere was the main advocate in the prosecuting of him. It is overall ironic that evil prevails in this novel.

Claggort unfortunately ‘got the last laugh’. He is able to adulterate Billy’s purity and innocence in such a way that even the newspapers consider Billy as ” the criminal [who] paid the penalty for his crime” In the end Claggort is portrayed as this martyr who is killed by this evil, and bad person, Billy Budd.

This assumption is a major mistake. To develop the dramatic contrast between good and evil in the novel, Billy Budd, Herman Melville uses symbolism, characterization, and irony. Good and evil are a flip of a coin, and separated by a very thin line. The innocent martyr, Billy crossed this line once in the novel, to cause his downfall. After reading Billy Budd the reader ultimately realizes good and evil with out a problem.


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