5 December 2009
The Recurring Theme of Male Sexual Orientation:
An Examination of Billy Budd, Sailor by Herman Melville
During the late 1800s, homosexuality was not widely accepted. Men were identified as strong and worked hard for their families and if they identified themselves as homosexuals they “might risk falling into a camp of outsiders” (Phillips 2000). Women of that time were not considered “real citizens” and Herman Melville was a real man who needed to support his deeply indebted family after his father died (Merriman 2007) (Phillips 2000). Melville was born in 1819 and was raised in New York City (Merriman 2007). His inspirations for his many notable ...view middle of the document...
His last voyage out to sea was in 1843 and he dedicated Billy Budd to the Captain of that ship.
Budd is described as “young; and despite his all but fully developed frame, in aspect looked even younger than he was…smooth face, all but feminine impurity of natural complexion” (Melville 50). Budd “evokes in his fellow, some natural spontaneous attraction as that which holds together the heavenly bodies” (Koffler 1989). His feminine characteristics “affects so much wonder in the reader that we hardly notice the theme of manly love” (Koffler 1989). Melville does not describe Budd as an ordinary person of beauty, he instead has the “faint rosebud complexion of the more beautiful English girls” (Phillips 2000). Budd “has a face ‘never been deformed by a sneer or subtler vile free of the heart” (Phillips 2000). Although he describes Budd’s femininity, beauty and the way the other sailors feel about him, Melville makes sure to use caution when describing Budd’s emotions and to not declare his orientation. Melville “again assures his listeners that he isn’t talking about a sexuality that may offend them” (Phillips 2000). He does not “break taboos with his surface speech” but he does try to “soften the hearts of those who may have been just on the outside of the real bigots” (Phillips 2000).
The other sailors on the ship take to Budd like “hornets to treacle, for his character and beauty excite the appetite for sweetness in men” (Koffler 1989). Melville’s extension of the theme of homosexuality completely excludes all women in Billy Budd, Sailor. Budd “makes life on board the Rights of Man ‘the happy family,’ eliciting ‘maternal’ and feminine qualities from the sailors themselves” (Koffler 1989). The love the sailors have for Budd is expressed in small gestures, “one sews up Billy’s trousers, one does his washing; another carves him a pretty little chest.” (Koffler 1989).
While Billy Budd is the main character of the book, several other characters are main players in Melville’s story. Claggart, is also described as a feminine male and becomes envious of Budd. His “silken jet curls cluster over his face; he is beardless and except for the protuberant chin and pallor he is well molded” (Koffler 1989). Claggart is attracted to Budd and suggestively says “Handsomely done, my lad! And handsome is as handsome did it, too!” (Melville 72) “Melville could not accept that part of himself, which, like Claggart, desired Billy Budd” (Norton 2000). A love triangle has been suggested between Budd, Claggart and Captain Vere, the Captain of Rights of Man. Budd and the Captain have “a secret interview …and it is called the ‘closeted’ interview more than a dozen times” (Norton 2000). Various descriptions of Captain Vere have been offered, such as his need to “’guard as much as possible against publicity and to insist on the maintenance of secrecy’” (Norton 2000). Captain Vere was unable to forgive Billy for unintentionally killing Claggart and this “is intimately...