Society: The Ultimate Doppelganger

Society: The Ultimate Doppelganger

SOCIETY: THE ULTIMATE DOPPELGANGER Melville and Conrad strove to make their narratives realistic reflections of the worlds in which they lived by injecting into them various true-to-life circumstances based on personal experience. Both widely-traveled men of the sea, they had occasion to witness numerous situations in which the laws of society collided with the laws of morality, causing each man, in turn, to evaluate and subsequently condemn a system condoned by society. Melville, in Billy Budd, Sailor, and Conrad, in Heart of Darkness, utilized narrators who–within the artistic context–were able to offer derogatory opinions of perpetrated evils which the authors could not. The imagery is more symbolic than realistic, as the central interest of both authors is not the portrayed reality but the legitimate meaning or inference that exists beneath the surface. The inherent evil of Claggart and the Christ-like qualities of Billy Budd are well-defined in the classic struggle of good and evil in Melville’s Billy Budd, Sailor. The underlying issue of note is not the struggle between good and evil, but the social, political, and military temperament of the period. While the novel opens with several chapters of historical background, describing the war with France and the British naval mutinies, history touches upon the story, contextualizing it, but does not determine it. Billy Budd’s impressment and departure from the symbolic Rights-of-Man reminds the reader of Dante’s Divine Comedy wherein we find the warning “All hope abandon, ye who enter here,” foreshadowing a future devoid of hope and personal rights. Naval discipline was brutal, using impressments–a revolting threat to freedom–as a means to fill the ranks. According to Mottram “Billy Budd, Sailor brings Melville’s anguish before the nature of law to a final performance, without resolution” (242). Due to the undercurrent of mutiny and sailor disconte…


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