by Herman Melville | Grades: 11-12
About Billy Budd by Herman Melville
Cheerful, hardworking, and handsome, Billy is pressed into naval service aboard a British ship during the Napoleonic wars. The innocent and lovable young man quickly wins the hearts of all his comrades, save one: Claggart, the implacably bitter master-at-arms, who falsely accuses Billy of inciting mutiny.
Rich in ambiguities, Herman Melville's haunting parable of the clash between good and evil raises thought-provoking issues related to the conflict between the requirements of the law and the needs of humanity.
Billy Budd, Sailor was discovered unfinished in the author's desk shortly after his 1891 death and remained unpublished until 1924.
A Biographical Note About Herman Melville
Herman Melville was born in August 1, 1819, in New York City, the son of a merchant. Only twelve when his father died bankrupt, young Herman tried work as a bank clerk, as a cabin-boy on a trip to Liverpool, and as an elementary schoolteacher, before shipping in January 1841 on the whaler Acushnet, bound for the Pacific.
Deserting ship the following year in the Marquesas, he made his way to Tahiti and Honolulu, returning as ordinary seaman on the frigate United States to Boston, where he was discharged in October 1844. Books based on these adventures won him immediate success.
By 1850 he was married, had acquired a farm near Pittsfield, Massachussetts (where he was the impetuous friend and neighbor of Nathaniel Hawthorne), and was hard at work on his masterpiece Moby-Dick.
Literary success soon faded; his complexity increasingly alienated readers. After a visit to the Holy Land in January 1857, he turned from writing prose fiction to poetry. In 1863, during the Civil War, he moved back to New York City, where from 1866-1885 he was a deputy inspector in the Custom House, and where, in 1891, he died.