Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version
THE LANGUAGE OF BILLY BUDD
The language of Billy Budd is not always easy. The complex sentences constructions and multisyllabic words generate a formal "mood" which suggests writing of the early 19th century, closer to the time of the story's action than the time of Melville's writing. The sentence constructions are somewhat elliptical, and Melville uses seafaring terms and references in abundance. There is also much more discourse than dialogue. These are characteristic of Melville's usual style when he is writing about men on ships. In spite of the complexity of the language, the tragic tale reads almost like a ballad, almost more so than the actual ballad that appears at the end of Billy Budd.
Melville is very taken with the figure of the Handsome Sailor. The homosexual undertow of the prose is apparent to readers of the late twentieth century. Billy is spoken of as both childlike and feminine, and at the same time he is the height of manliness. Together these are earmarks of the homosexual male hero, the male-to-male love object. This is not to claim that there is literal sex going on between the lines of the story, but that the fiery and passionate feelings between men is informed by a set of sexual object relations: bodily appreciation, heightened desire, and the move towards domination and possession.