Melville s View of Christianity

Melville s Billy Budd is filled with the question of religion. Melville seems to be stuck on the idea and mystery of Christianity and the thoughts and views around it. He seems reluctant to totally believe the ideas of Christianity yet cannot fully reject the tradition behind it. In Billy Budd, Melville is directly figurative and less clearly dogmatic in his treatment of religion itself. In the story Billy Budd is certainly a Christ figure of sorts, an exceptional individual of unknown background, sentenced to death for going against the laws of his society. The Pontius Pilate of the story would have to be Vere, an administrator who washes his hands of the decision, leaving the fate of the accused to the strict interpretation of the law. Finally, Claggart is the Satan figure, fallen from grace and functioning only in the realm of evil. The fable itself is clear, yet what are the implications of it all? Billy Budd could be a solemn apology for Christianity by Melville and on the other hand it could be a bald condemnation of it as well. Either way I think that Melville clearly recognized the central issue of a Christian story to the world and its value systems at the time. After reading the story I think that it is difficult to tell whether Melville reserved a stronger condemnation for practical society or for Christianity itself. Perhaps we will never know what side he was trying to prove with this story, Billy Budd. I feel that Melville sided with the side of practical society rather than that of Christianity.

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