Melville's Billy Budd: The Sailor's Innocence

- March 1999 -

I have just finished reading Melville's short novel, Billy Budd. Its main theme is innocence. If we look back, we can easily find hosts of noble writers and poets obsessed by the clash of innocence and corruption in man. Just a couple of names: J. J. Rousseau and William Blake. But the depressing dichotomy of child and adult has disappeared in Melville. There is neither the heart-rending regret for the loss of childhood nor that creeping sense of inferiority which is often felt as a result of an adult's stepping out of the enchanted realm of visions. No...Billy Budd is the perfect example of an innocent grown-up man. His view of the world is the view of a new Adam. His cheerfulness and expectations are those of a young boy not yet corrupted by experience. In spite of the novel's tragic end, I think Melville's is great philosophy. Though in a world of sharks, we should all acquire Billy's balance. Real happiness certainly lies in that.

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