Herman Melville was born on August 1, 1819 in New York City. He was born to Allan and Maria Melvill (Meltzer 9). Herman grew up in a family who struggled to make enough money. The family moved around trying to run a profitable business. Allan’s efforts to feed his family did pay off but led to his death. Allan Melvill passed away in 1832 (Baym 2256). Herman faced many difficulties in finding jobs during the Panic of 1837 and eventually ended up going on voyages abroad (Baym 2256). Collecting his adventures, Herman Melville used his stories to write poems, novels, and stories like Billy Budd.
Melville became a writer and used elements from Romanticism. Romanticism is writing that relates to nature, individuality, and rebellion towards authority or aristocratic members of society (Reuben par. 1). It can be concluded that Herman Melville uses elements of Romanticism in his writings, as seen in Billy Budd. After the passing of his father, Melville lived in rough conditions with his family. Attempting to secure a job, Melville failed and decided to go abroad. In 1839, he went on his first voyage on the St. Lawrence to Liverpool (Meltzer 28). Melville later used his voyage on the St.
Lawrence as a basis for a story called Redburn, which was his autobiographical story (Meltzer 29). After returning from abroad and again struggling to secure a job, Melville went aboard the Acushnet as a whaler. Melville was not a very good whaler and lived in rough conditions. Therefore he abandoned the ship and stayed with the native tribe who were cannibals (Meltzer 44). After staying with the native tribe, Melville escaped the island on Lucy Ann, an Australian whaler ship. Melville’s second journey was used as a basis for his first novel, Typee. Melville happened to return home and join the navy after.
After he served in the navy, Melville heard many stories about adventures at sea, which he used in his novels (Meltzer 71). When he returned, Melville decided to become a writer and finally wrote his first novel, Typee. After becoming an author, Melville amazed a woman named Elizabeth Shaw, whom he married on August 4, 1847 (Baym 2257). Melville went on to write many stories and eventually, Moby-Dick. Moby-Dick was Melville’s greatest novel. However, at that time the novel was not successful (Meltzer 97). Today, Moby-Dick is one of the greatest novels written and is well received. Another great novel by Melville was his last one, Billy Budd.
Billy Budd is one of Melville’s most familiar works today. It is about an innocent sailor who is falsely accused of mutiny. The sailor kills his accuser and is condemned to death for it by the ship’s captain, Captain Vere (Meltzer 115). Melville passed away on September 28, 1891 because of a heart attack (Baym 2256). Billy Budd was left unpublished at the time of Melville’s death but it was published in 1924 (Meltzer 116). Herman Melville’s books were reprinted after his death. Today, Melville is justifiably known as one of the greatest American writers. Melville is considered a great writer because he used the elements of Romanticism.
Romanticism is a style of writing in which the author describes nature. Usually the author uses nature to express his thoughts. Other aspects of romanticism are rebellion, individuality, and separation from civilization for an increase in emotion (Wilson par. 3). There is an important focus in emotions, independence, and spirituality. It is believed that these parts of life are natural, bringing out uniqueness in humans. The movement of romanticism was a common movement in the nineteenth century, although authors used romanticism differently when they wrote (Wilson par. ). In Billy Budd, Billy is an individual who is different but is well-liked by most of his companions. Billy is accused by the master-of-arms as a person who is planning to commit mutiny. Billy becomes very emotional and leads the story into the climax. Billy Budd is a story about a young, handsome, and muscular sailor named Billy Budd. Billy is falsely accused of mutiny by the master-of-arms on the ship, John Claggart. When asked to defend himself, Billy starts to stutter and cannot claim his innocence. Billy gets furious and punches Claggart, killing him.
Captain Vere sentences Billy to death (Reuben par. 2). The story has elements of Romanticism within. Melville shows that Billy can rebel against the higher authority of Claggart and Captain Vere. Claggart has an evil nature and is clearly jealous of Billy and therefore uses his authority to take an advantage. Melville describes Claggart, “[Claggart] in whom was the mania of an evil nature, not engendered by vicious training or corrupting book or licentious living but born with him and innate, in short ‘a depravity according to nature’” (Melville 38).
Melville says that Claggart was born with evil inside him and that is his nature. Claggart’s evil nature and individuality as being the villain are illustrated as the elements of Romanticism. Claggart is lying when he accuses Billy and Captain Vere knows it but he still asks for Billy to be brought in the room. Billy knows the truth but cannot speak because he is so shocked that Claggart would blame him. Billy becomes angry and punches Claggart. Claggart dies and to be fair, Captain Vere has to give Billy a trial and decides to condemn him. Billy is hanged the next morning.
But before Billy dies, he yells, “God bless Captain Vere” (Melville 80). Captain Vere was questioning whether he should hang Billy but he knew what the authority wants him to do. Before condemning Billy, Captain Vere says, “Struck dead by an angel of God! Yet the angel must hang! ” (Melville 60). In this quotation, Captain Vere is trying to say that Billy is like an angel of God but even if an angel had committed murder like Billy, the angel must hang. That was the justification of Captain Vere to condemn Billy, even though he felt differently inside. Billy is shown to be a martyr for his shipmates.
He shows that the shipmates should stand up for what they believe in. Billy feels that the whippings that Claggart used to give were bad and tried to avoid them. Billy offends Claggart and dies at the end. This book portrays the rebellion against authority, which is an element of Romanticism. Other elements in this scene include the individuality of Billy and aspects of life that are natural, which brings out the uniqueness of Billy. When Billy is asked to defend himself, he is speechless. Billy starts to stutter, which is a natural defect that he has.
The stuttering issue makes Billy unique and an individual. If Melville had not given Billy the stuttering problem, Billy might have not killed Claggart. The plot of the story could be affected by just one detail. This is how Melville uses Romanticism in Billy Budd. Billy Budd was also analyzed, criticized, and enjoyed by other people, such as Albert Camus. Camus believed that the story was a “flawless story that can be ranked with certain Greek tragedies” (Camus par. 2). Camus also says that Captain Vere gives his heart to the law by condemning Billy.
Vere could have let Billy live but he wanted to be fair and do what the authority would want him to. Vere follows nature by doing what everyone would expect him to do which portrays an element of Romanticism. Captain Vere also represents authority as in the highest official aboard the ship. Camus is correct when he compares Billy Budd to Greek tragedies because the story has a plot which creates emotion during many moments like Greek stories which is why it is an element of Romanticism. Roger Shattuck says that Captain Vere, Claggart, and Billy are f one individual broken into three parts, “Captain Vere standing for the pride of both reason and authority, Claggart, who represents ‘depravity according to nature,’ and Billy, who embodies ingenuous goodness” (Shattuck 82). Shattuck shows that all three of these characters stand for something and rebel. Vere rebels against pride and therefore condemns Billy, Claggart rebels against morals and therefore is unmoral as seen when he whips other sailors. Billy rebels against the authority of Vere and Claggart when he does not speak and punches Claggart, killing him.
All three of these characters embody elements of Romanticism. Also, Claggart and Billy represent the Devil and Adam. W. H. Auden writes that Claggart is like the Devil because he tempts Billy, who is like Adam. For Claggart to punish Billy for the sins of the rest of the ship, Billy must know what sin is. So Billy sees the whipping that Claggart gives to other sailors (Auden 86). In the end, Billy is an individual who dies because of the nature of society, of his uniqueness and defects, and his separation from civilization. Billy is separate than his civilization because he is the only civil one.
Claggart abuses the crew on the ship and Captain Vere hangs Billy which is still uncivil. Billy dies a martyr for the reason that he saves his shipmates from being abused and punished. These are the reasons why many critics agree that Billy Budd is a great piece of literature and that Melville uses elements of Romanticism in Billy Budd. Herman Melville lived a very interesting life, ranging from going on expeditions around the world to writing great American novels. Following the Romantic ideas, Melville used those elements in his writings. The elements of Romanticism were shown in his last novel, Billy Budd.
Romanticism includes the idea of nature, rebellions, and individualism as seen in Billy Budd. Herman Melville used Romanticism to write great novels such as Typee, Redburn, and Moby-Dick. Melville is now considered one of the greatest American authors. Melville may have not succeeded in the beginning of his career but since his death he is regarded as one of the greatest American writers. Throughout his life, Melville was poor and barely survived but he was rich with ideas and thoughts that led him to write great stories, poems, and novels such as Billy Budd.