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Billy Budd, Sailor

Herman Melville
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Writing Help

Suggested Essay Topics

Writing Help Suggested Essay Topics

1. How does war function in Billy Budd, both in the narrative itself and in the allegory? Which images symbolize war? How does war affect law? Thinking about the romantic tales of Captain Graveling and the narrator’s descriptions of Captain Nelson, how does the war of the past differ from the warfare at the time the novel takes place? According to Melville, what ultimately accounts for this difference?

2. What role does the chaplain play on the ship? How is he perceived by the crewmen and Billy, respectively? What impact does he have on the novel’s exploration of religious and moral themes?

3. Why might Melville have called Billy Budd “an inside narrative”? What do you make of the controversy over the novel’s title? Does the title of the book have any bearing on how we interpret the story?

4. What role does irony play in Billy Budd? To what extent is the novel sincere?

5. In what ways does Melville dramatize the conflict between a person’s inner self and that person’s role in society? In particular, think about the Dansker, Captain Vere, and the jury.