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Billy Budd

Billy Budd


by Herman Melville

Billy Budd Theme of Admiration

As the narrator depicts it, Billy Budd is not just a man worthy of respect or even a hero; he is a man to be bowed down and worshipped, a man that you can't help but love. In the narrator's case, these feelings sometimes get sentimentalized and exaggerated, but it is clear that there is a lot of admiring going on in Billy Budd. At times, loyalty or a sense of duty merges into admiration, and at times characters try to conceal a lack of admiration by appealing to loyalty and duty.

Questions About Admiration

  1. Why is the narrator's admiration of Billy often put into physical terms?
  2. Who is the character in the novel most deserving of admiration and why?
  3. What does Billy seem to admire about Captain Vere and vice versa? Are they similar qualities or are they different ones?
  4. Why does it seem that the narrator's overwhelming admiration of Billy and Captain Vere is often punctuated by denigration of average sailors? Is it possible to admire one man without implicitly putting down all the men around him?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Claggart secretly admires Billy as much as the other men, but his jealousy means that he has to hide this fact from himself. Such self-deception only fuels his hatred.

Like Claggart, the narrator envies Billy as much as he admires him. In the case of the narrator, however, he tries to conceal his envy by idealizing Billy, by using overblown terms to praise him, and by emphasizing Billy's simplicity.

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