Billy Budd

Who was the most important character in Billy Budd

Why was he a good man. What was his fall from grace.

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Why Billy Budd of course.

The Vulnerability of Innocence

Billy Budd does not represent goodness so much as he does innocence, and the conflict between innocence and evil in this novel is different from the conflict between good and evil. The narrator makes clear that Billy is not a hero in the traditional sense. Though he has the good looks and blithe attitude of the ideal Handsome Sailor, his defining characteristic is extreme naïveté, not moral strength or courage. Billy does not have a sufficient awareness of good and evil to choose goodness consciously, let alone champion it. Because he is unable to recognize evil when confronted by it, he ultimately allows Claggart to draw him away from virtue and into violence.

As a youthful, handsome, and popular sailor, Billy wishes only to be well liked and well-adjusted in his social role. He assumes that no one has cause to dislike him, and takes everyone at face value. Claggart, on the other hand, is full of deception, distrust, and malice, and interprets Billy’s placidity as a dangerous façade. Claggart seems to destroy Billy for no reason other than the latter’s innocence. Evil exists to corrupt innocence, and even though Billy kills Claggart, in a sense Claggart achieves a double victory over Billy in his own death. Claggart’s actions cause Billy to fall from both social and moral grace by committing murder, and Billy suffers death as a consequence.