Billy Budd


Herman Melville

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Christian Imagery Symbol Analysis

Christian Imagery Symbol Icon
Throughout the novella, Billy Budd is admiringly compared to various Christian figures. He is often described as similar to Adam, emphasizing his complete innocence and lack of experience with the civilized, corrupt world. However, toward the end of the narrative, he is especially associated with Jesus Christ. He accepts his execution peacefully, and seems so at ease with his fate that the chaplain has no spiritual advice to give him. The mystical morning light that illuminates his body as it is hanged also paints Billy as a holy martyr. And in the days after Billy's death, the narrator notes that the sailors of the Indomitable treat the spar from which he was hanged as a special relic like the cross of Christ's crucifixion. All of this Christian imagery characterizes Billy as a martyr and emphasizes his innocence and good moral nature. Moreover, the idea of martyrdom and the association of Billy with Jesus underlines Billy's death as a sacrifice of individuality for a larger community, just as Jesus gave his own life for the benefit of all mankind.

Christian Imagery Quotes in Billy Budd

The Billy Budd quotes below all refer to the symbol of Christian Imagery. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Natural Character and Appearance Theme Icon
Chapter 2 Quotes

Billy in many respects was little more than a sort of upright barbarian, much such perhaps as Adam presumably might have been ere the urbane Serpent wriggled himself into his company.

Related Characters: Billy Budd
Related Symbols: Christian Imagery
Page Number: 301
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 20 Quotes

Struck dead by an angel of God! Yet the angel must hang!

Related Characters: Captain Vere (speaker), Billy Budd, John Claggart
Related Symbols: Christian Imagery
Page Number: 352
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 22 Quotes

But in natural justice is nothing but the prisoner's overt act to be considered? How can we adjudge to summary and shameful death a fellow creature innocent before God, and whom we feel to be so?

Related Characters: Captain Vere (speaker), Billy Budd
Related Symbols: Christian Imagery
Page Number: 361
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 25 Quotes

Not that like children Billy was incapable of conceiving what death really is. No; but he was wholly without irrational fear of it, a fear more prevalent in highly civilized communities than those so-called barbarous ones which in all respects stand nearer to unadulterated Nature.

Related Characters: Billy Budd
Related Symbols: Christian Imagery
Page Number: 372
Explanation and Analysis:

Marvel not that having been made acquainted with the young sailor's essential innocence...the worthy man lifted not a finger to avert the doom of such a martyr to martial discipline. So to do would not only have been as idle as invoking the desert, but would also have been an audacious transgression of the bounds of his function.

Related Characters: The Chaplain
Related Symbols: Christian Imagery
Page Number: 373
Explanation and Analysis:
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Christian Imagery Symbol Timeline in Billy Budd

The timeline below shows where the symbol Christian Imagery appears in Billy Budd. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 26
Natural Character and Appearance Theme Icon
Storytelling, Rumor, and Truth Theme Icon
...water, so that Billy's body hung in the light "with a soft glory as of the fleece of the Lamb of God seen in mystical vision." To the amazement of all on deck, Billy's body was perfectly... (full context)
Chapter 31
Natural Character and Appearance Theme Icon
Duty, Loyalty, and Camaraderie Theme Icon
Justice Theme Icon
The Present vs. the Past Theme Icon
...hanged as a monument. A piece of it was as valuable to them as a piece of the cross on which Christ was crucified. (full context)