Billy Budd and Moby Dick Essay

Excerpt from Essay :



Point ONE: Billy Budd: Critic Eugene Goodheart is the Edythe Macy Professor of Humanities Emeritus at Brandeis University. He writes that while critics are generally divided between those who see Captain Vere as "an unwitting collaborator" with Claggart and those who feel Vere was correct to have Billy sent to the gallows. In his piece Goodheart explains that Billy is "…variously seen as Adam before the fall, as a noble barbarian, as Isaac the sacrificial victim…and as a Christ figure" (Goodheart, 2006, p. 81).

Point TWO: Goodheart makes the most of his assertion that no matter what allegorical link to Billy, the protagonist is symbolic of innocence. When Billy lashes out at Claggart, it is due to his innocence. He is first of all innocent of the charge that he was leading a mutiny, Goodheart explains. Secondly, Billy is innocent when it comes to the existence of evil (Goodheart, p. 82); he is certainly confronted with evil but he doesn't grasp Claggart's false accusations as evil. And Goodheart believes that Billy's stutter itself is "an essential part of [Billy's] innocence" because due to his stutter he cannot fully articulate his case in this matter (i.e., his innocence).

Point ONE: Moby Dick: Meanwhile, Denis Donoghue -- professor of English at New York University -- links Moby Dick with the events and aftermath of 9/11. First of all, in the days following the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, President George W. Bush drew a line in the sand between what he defined as evil and what he defined as good. The good was anything American and the evil was embodied in Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. And Donoghue argues from the point-of-view that bin Laden and the white whale Moby Dick were evil forces to be killed in a wild rage of revenge and retaliation.

Point TWO: Captain Ahab of course wanted revenge because the whale had taken his leg; Bush wanted revenge because bin Laden and the terrorists had attacked his country under his watch -- the first major attack on American soil since the Japanese
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bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941. Ahab wanted retaliation against an enemy that could hide deep in the waters of the Atlantic Ocean; Bush wanted retaliation against an enemy that hid in caves in the mountains of Afghanistan.

Point THREE: Donoghue insists that "…It would be difficult, in these lurid circumstances, to read Moby-Dick as anything but a revenge play, a…melodrama of good and evil" (Donoghue, 2003, p. 162). Moreover, Donoghue identifies the conflict and stress in Moby Dick -- created by Ahab in his obsession to kill the whale -- with the dynamics of the Cold War. In that "cold war" the conflict in this analogy is between Ahab and Ishmael -- in the same sense as the U.S. And the Soviet Union had totally different ideologies. And as for the white whale -- the coveted prize to be conquered at the end of the war -- Donoghue explains (p. 178) that Ahab "at once loves and hates him." He loves him because that gives the ship a passionate goal. He hates him for reasons (revenge) mentioned above. It is Ahab's ability to bend his crew's attitudes into believing that the whale is "Public Enemy Number One" that mirrors the propaganda communists fed Soviet citizens into believing that the U.S. was public enemy number one.

Conclusion: Melville's novels will always be of interest to scholars beyond the basic literary excellence they are known for. The creative scholars that can see a link between Moby Dick and 9/11, or flush out the moral dilemma created by Billy's death, or can place Billy in the shoes of Adam in the Garden of Eden, are worth reading because they generate fresh ideas and stir legitimate controversy within the scholarly community.

Works Cited

Claviez, Thomas. "Rainbows, Fogs, and Other Smokescreens: Billy Budd and the Question of Ethics." Arizona Quarterly: A Journal of American Literature, Culture, and Theory. 62.4

(2006): 31-46.

Donoghue, Denis. "Moby-Dick' after September…

Sources Used in Documents:

Works Cited

Claviez, Thomas. "Rainbows, Fogs, and Other Smokescreens: Billy Budd and the Question of Ethics." Arizona Quarterly: A Journal of American Literature, Culture, and Theory. 62.4

(2006): 31-46.

Donoghue, Denis. "Moby-Dick' after September 11th." Law and Literature 15.2 (2003): 161-

Goodheart, Eugene. "Billy Budd and the World's Imperfection." Sewanee Review 114.1 (2006):

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