Billy Budd

Billy Budd is an excellent example of literary reinvention in the way he challenges the traditional literary rules on what heroes can and must be. In traditional literature, heroes rise above the fray. They are the people in control and in charge. Melville envisioned Billy Budd as the criminal element. He painted Billy Budd as the lawless man, going against the ingrained power structure of the Master-at-Arms. He is both a saint and a maligned criminal, facing difficulty because of a conflict with the ship’s master-at-arms and because of his own personality. Budd could be described as a rabble rouser, a person who did not like authority in the least. While this personality tick has been typical of Revolutionary Era heroes, Melville’s character took it to the extreme. Budd is the reinventing of the classic hero by showing that heroes can often be underdogs. Likewise, he is a way of showing that heroes can often be quite complex. Specifically, heroes can be people who have good and bad qualities, who encourage the discontentment around them. Melville deepens the picture of what a hero can be and what his personality can entail.

Likewise, he reinvents the idea of a hero by showing that sometimes, heroes can be killed for the things they do. Budd killed Claggart, an act that earned him an execution date. Traditional literature posits that heroes can be punished or rewarded. It is not often that their bad acts outweigh the good. In this work, the author is showing a denser picture of the world. Heroes are not simple. They can be complex. Whitman wrote that men contain multitudes. Melville’s hero supports this, showing the many different sides of men, including their bad acts, their immature qualities, and the positives that allow them to have an outsized impact on the other characters around them.