Billy Budd by Herman Melville - Appearance Versus Reality (thesis and first body paragraph)

Essay by xxnancyxxnancyxxHigh School, 10th gradeA+, March 2004

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A character's single mistake can lead to his ultimate downfall. In the book Billy Budd by Herman Melville, the sole mistake of the main character was his naïve nature to assume things to be the way they appear. The protagonist and main character, Billy mistakes his master-at-arms John Claggart, the jealous antagonist against the rise of his status, for a truthful man. It is Billy's childhood teachings, disregard for wise advice, and inability to uncover reality from appearance that leads to his deadly outcome.

Billy was raised by sailors as a young child into his adulthood, and he was taught that a man should be straightforward in his thoughts and words. In the early exposition of the story when Billy was being looked upon to be selected for a military crew, his captain of the time said, "Blessed are the peacemakers," (9), referring to Billy. The captain did not want Billy to be parted from his crew because he believes Billy to be a peacemaker; the term "peacemaker" refers to a person who has an innocent personality that can keep the peace in simple, black-and-white situations like the simple Billy.

In the many circumstances when Claggart, the master-at-arms, refers to Billy as a handsome sailor, he believes it to be a harmless compliment. It only seems to be a trivial compliment, but, in reality, it is Claggart's only available way to express his true emotions that Billy fails to realize because of his mindset. Even when Billy's crewmate, Dansker, says, "Jemmy Legs is down on you," (9) referring to the master-at-arms, his response is return is to the defense of Claggart. Billy childishly thinks that Claggart's words to him are truthful because he was raised to believe that a sailor's word is frank and uncomplicated. These many events show...