Biily Budd by Herman Melville- Appearance vs Reality

Essay by kanatsulolHigh School, 11th grade February 2004

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The True Character

Usually, one would judge others at first sight by their appearance and first impressions then make an initial inference about them. Through the interaction and conversation one had with people, they might not be able to decipher between what was the truth and what was untrue. Herman Melville, through his novel Billy Budd conveyed the theme of appearance versus reality in the novel's three main characters. In the beginning of the novel, Melville portrayed each character with distinct personality; Billy Budd was represented as the simple-minded sailor, Claggart was viewed as the villain, and Captain Vere was seen as the honorable superior of the ship. As the novel developed, the earlier images of these characters were contradicted as previously unseen traits of each character were revealed. Throughout the novel, the characters' appearances differed from their inner selves.

John Claggart was kind and friendly to Billy in appearance but in reality a villain planning to destroy Billy.

On the outside, he was clean- living, calm, rational, "a man of high quality, social and moral..."(P30). However, he only showed kindness toward Billy to mask his unkind intentions. He applied all the powers of his intelligent mind to bringing about his hateful purposes in secret. When Billy approached, Claggart would "step aside a little to let him pass, dwelling of a Guise. But upon any abrupt unforeseen encounter a red light would [flash] forth from his eyes like a spark from an anvil in a dusk smithy." (P51) Also, "when Claggart's unobserved glance happened to light on belted Billy...that glance would follow the cheerful sea-Hyperion with a settled meditative and melancholy expression, his eyes strangely suffused with incipient feverish tears. (P51) The quotes contradicted Claggart's actions upon seeing Billy and his true evil face behind Billy. Claggart's job was master-at-arms...