Billy Budd by Herman Melville and Film of Mice and Men 1992 Research Paper
The film Of Mice and Men based on novel of John Steinbeck depicts the story of two migrant workers Lennie Small and George Milton. Describing the period of Great Depression, the author wants to show the striving of men to find their place in California, to find a job and to improve their life of outsiders.
However, the main idea of this film consists not in the description of the social problems; it is a story about the way how people build the relationships, about friendship. The novel Billy Budd by Herman Melville describes a life of a young sailor who works aboard warship during the 18th century in England. In spite of Of Mice and Men, Billy Budd is focused more on the ideas of justice, morality, religion and other social issues.
This story can be considered as an allegory with a complex use of symbols. Although, at the first glance, two stories seem different, one can find the similarities between the characters of Lennie Small and Billy Budd, as both men are workers who demonstrate the courage, strong temper and will to improve their life and to change the world they live in.
Of Mice and Men is a story about the American Dream, where characters who are aspired by the will to improve their live try to use the fortune and luck. On the other hand, the audience can be a witness how the will to get money can destroy the relationships between friends. Two friends have to move from their city because one of them is accused of rape of young women. In fact, this accusation is groundless. However, the heroes suppose that it is better to escape from the city than try to apologize and to justify this action.
Lennie and George have to find the place where to live and work and they find it on Tyler Ranch (Of Mice and Men 2003). Lennie and George lose their companionship due to the ambitions and indefatigable striving to get the capital and become more independent and self-sufficient. The taglines of this film are: “We have a dream. Someday, we’ll have a little house and a couple of acres. A place to call home” (“Of Mice and Men”).
Perhaps, such desire can be understandable, as the workers have a poor life, although they work hard. However, they forget what the real value of this life is. It is not money. Obviously, such way of behavior and priorities may lead to success; however, in case of the heroes of Of Mice and Men, this idea crushes.
Billy Budd, the novel written by Herman Melville in 19th century, describes story of young sailor who works abroad the warship. This story has a spirit of the French Revolution with a will of the justice, freedom and human rights. “Handsome sailor” (Melville 928) works aboard the merchant vessel; however, he dreams about the work aboard the warship Indomitable. Billy is a typical good character who is respected by the crew.
Perhaps, he has a good heart because he is an orphaned and knows how difficult and complicated the life can be. Obviously, the story should have both good and bad sides.
The antagonist of a good and kind Billy is the Master-at-arms of the ship John Claggart. Billy is falsely accused of mutiny and unable to protect himself when Captain Vere tries to find the truth; as the result, he accidentally kills his enemy. The end of this story provides three reports and the readers can see that the Captain Vere is dead due to the battle, journalists write about Billy’s execution and the crew remembers about this young brave sailor. Melville’s novel has the multiply mythological and biblical allusions.
Moreover, one can find there an influence of the French and American Revolutions, the success of Admiral Nelson and the various political and philosophical ideas of the 18th century. This story is deeper than Of Mice and Men due to its physiological motives of behavior which cause some extraordinary events. Thus, it is complicated to comprehend why John Claggart does not like Billy while all other members of crew like this young man.
The reason of such attitude consists in the human nature. Although everyone can see the result, it is difficult to explain why it happens, which motives cause such events. On the other hand, the motives of behavior of the heroes of Of Mice and Men are clear: it is a striving of getting more material goods, more money and gold.
The story of Billy Budd takes place on the Mediterranean Sea, while Of Mice and Men describes life in South of Soledad, California. The themes of two stories are different.
Billy Budd struggles against the social injustice, the individual against the society and the conscience against law. On the other hand, the relationships between Lennie and George emphasize an importance of fraternity and friendship, the destructive impact of the social opinion within the American society and impossibility of the American Dream to form the capital from nothing.
The motives of heroes’ behavior are similar. Both men are accused; however, Lennie wants to prove that he still able to achieve his goals, to improve his life, while Billy is unable to argue and to prove that his is not guilty. The motives of Billy Budd are the Christian allegory and mutiny, while Of Mice and Men is an emphasis of strength and weakness of humans, friendship, companionship and loneliness.
It is obvious that the characters of Lennie Small and Billy Budd are similar. Both men demonstrate the best human qualities: they are brave, clever and kind. However, in spite of Lennie Small, Billy Budd can be considered as more complicated psychological archetype. One can find that the novel of Melville has a number of Christian conceptions and biblical allusions (“Billy Budd: Allusions”).
Thus, Billy Budd is an allusion of Adam and Christ. He is driven out of his heaven like Adam and he is betrayed by the member of the crew like Christ. The figure of Captain can be considered as a God. Thus, there are following sentences in the novel: “Captain Vere tells the truth. It is just as Captain Vere says, but it is not as the master-at-arms said. I have eaten the King’s bread and I am true to the King” (Melville 932).
The present quotation provides an evident allusion of biblical subjects. Billy Budd is an example of cruel and unfair life where every good man can be accused and punished. It is possible to find the similarities between the events in the lives of Billy and Lennie as both men were falsely accused.
However, in case of Billy, this situation seems more unfair as he was absolutely innocent of the crime. On the other hand, Lennie touched that girl. Therefore, it would be wrong to claim that he is completely not guilty. Both men had tragic lives and did not accomplish all their dreams.
Their lives turned due to the sudden tragic events: Billy kills Claggart and Lennie kills the wife of Curley, the rancho owner’s son. However, although two stories and those tragic events seem similar, the results are completely different. Billy becomes a legend among the sailors; they sing songs about him and remember Billy as a brave and kind person. In case of Lennie, his life ends in a different way.
Curley sends men to kill Lennie and his friend George shoots him in the head. It is possible to consider this step of George as a betrayal of his friend. However, at the end of this story, Lennie and George were not friends; they betrayed their friendship earlier and barter it for money. Nevertheless, the figure of Lennie is also symbolical. It is a complex character who is completely different than others.
The author ironically called him Small, although, in fact, it is a man of large stature. His emotional level is similar to the childish one, as this man has the diminished mental abilities. However, this characteristic makes Lennie be kind like a child. Although sometimes he does not know what is right and what is wrong, he behaves better than George and he absolutely trusts his friend. Lennie’s main desire is to continue the friendship with George.
The reason of Lennie’s tragic end lies in a lack of understanding that all things that people do can have the consequences. Lennie is a menace to the society; thereby, it is possible to understand and accept his end. The social life requires strong mind and comprehension of the rules of behavior.
However, Billy Budd is absolutely different type of men. This young sailor is brave, intelligent, clever and fascinating and he knows what is right and what behavior can be considered as socially wrong or dangerous. It is difficult to understand why he cannot protect himself against the face of danger and false accusation. Reich supposes that the author used Billy as “an example of the flaws in the laws of society” (Reich 131). Although this man is a great example of goodness, he cannot withstand against the cruel reality and social opinion.
The author compares his character with Alexander the Great, physically and spiritually strong and powerful figure with the honest soul. Obviously, Billy Budd and Lennie Small are similar, as they both demonstrate their best qualities such as honesty, friendliness and will to have a good peaceful and quite life. Both of them are punished by the society who does not accept such characters.
The reason of their fall can be found in the idea that people are ready to believe in the most terrible crime than to accept that the person can be not guilty. Serious Billy and childish Lennie are similar because both of them treat people in a kind way; they cannot hurt or betray someone and, as the result, they both are betrayed by the people around them.
Billy Budd: Allusions. Web.
Melville, Herman. “Billy Budd, Sailor.” The Norton Anthology of Western Literature, 8th ed., Vol. 2. Ed. Lawall. US: W W NORTON, 2005. 928-932. Print.
Of Mice and Men. Ex. Prod. Gary Sinise. US: Twentieth Century Fox. 2003. DVD.
Of Mice and Men. Web.
Reich, Charles A. “The Tragedy of Justice in Billy Budd”, Critical Essays on Melville’s Billy Budd, Sailor. Ed. Robert Milder. Boston : G.K. Hall, 1989. 127-143. Print.
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