Category: Literature

Introduction

Frederick Douglass and Herman Melville were great writers of the nineteenth century. They were contemporaries and their writing style, themes, problems and issues, symbols and motifs were similar. They were conscious about freedom, slavery, race and equality of rights. Their ideas are so close, that it gives rise to a suggestion that their book-writings should be analyzed together. They both referred to an American literature and are considered to be very important for the American contemporary life (Wallace, 2005). Democracy, color line, human equality and the world status of the United States are still actual problems for American culture. This essay is dedicated to discussing two significant literary works, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass and Billy Budd by Herman Melville, comparing main characters’ personalities, their feelings, mental conflict and achievements.

Body

Douglass and Melville, both regarded to the same time after the Civil War, differed in race, social rank, wishes and expectations. Douglas ran away from slavery and became a political activist of Anti-Slavery Motion. Melville, whose grandfather was a hero of Revolutionary War, was a nameless writer (Wallace, 2005). But they had something common in their views and narratives. They were true Americans, a part of American culture: they both had a headache about its persistent problems. With the ironic tone and their heroes’ achievements and transformations the authors offer the possible solutions to these problems. All the characters have deep inner conflicts; they are exerted physical and moral coercion on. The violent scenes are structurally important for readers thinking and ascertaining reasonable moral rules (Peprn?k, p. 154).

Generally speaking, the contemporary world is full of violence and injustice, but it is less depressive than before the Civil War in the times of slavery. There were few people, who were brave and hunkered down to struggle with the oppressive environment. Indeed, they were virtually powerless and fight almost a lone hand. Frederick Douglass in the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass and Melville’s Billy Budd were the evident examples of such men of enterprise. Despite everything, they swam against the stream and achieved their aims in different ways.

Both comparing novels are full of symbols. While deed analyzing, the symbol of ship should be pointed out. In the beginning of the novel, Billy Budd wanted to be on the ship called “Rights of Man”; the author demonstrates the original right of his main character. Then, Billy is caught in the other ship called “Power of War”; thereby, emphasizing his advent in an oppressive society. With this military ship name, Melville shows that a poor boy must follow the rules of society. It is important to note that Billy Budd hesitates in speech as a child; it points to his innocence. What is more, he is conceived by the reader as a child, who is not ready yet for the violence, hurt and misunderstanding. Beautiful and openhearted Billy has a conflict with stark opposite malevolent John Claggart. Billy has to string along with Claggart because he is a master-at-arms. Claggart wants to get rid of Billy; Billy does not want to contact such an evil man, but finally, after the Claggart’s smear job, they have a fight and Billy kills his enemy.

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The most interesting and significant character, Captain Vere, gets into difficulties. During the trial of the innocent boy, Captain Vere halts between two desires. He does not know if he must behave morally or legally. It is a complicated choice for Vere: it is his festering issue, which has led the Captain to the psychological straggle and complex solution (Levine, p. 378). Billy killed an officer and, juridically, must be stretched; however, he defended himself and he is not guilty. Captain Vere decided to behave legally, Billy was hung. But this situation influenced the future of the ship. He suffered, but nobody will afflict with Claggart’s evil. At the same time, Melville demonstrates Captain Vere’s humanism; it becomes apparent that he is not evil. This situation presents the eternal superiority of social commitment over the feelings. Captain Vere speaks such words: “Struck dead by an angel of God! Yet the angel must hang! (Melville). He assimilates Billy with angel, but the law says that even an angel who committed a crime must be punished. Before being suspended, Billy cries “God bless Captain Vere” (Melville). After that the Captain feels himself terrible because of his wrong decision against moral values, it brings hope that he will make the right choice next time. Therefore, Billy has done his part.

Billy Budd was downed on a ship: it was his work and he did not choose it. In contrast to Billy, Frederick Douglass was black since birth. During this period of time, there was slave-owning society in America. He was a slave too, but he could change this system and prove to the readers that even the only person can influence the situation; bridge over the difficulties and change many things. It is common knowledge that Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass is the autobiography of the author. Frederick Douglass was a slave before the Civil war. In 1834, Douglas was rented to Edward Covey for a year. Covey and Melville’s Claggart are very similar. But Claggart is more intelligent than Covey. They both have to keep their job. Claggart is a master and Covey is a slave breaker: they both are evil and ugly men. Slaves are considered to be draught oxen. Douglas is perceived as an animal for hard work by Convey and Billy, in his turn is perceived as a working machine by Claggart.

Convey used to beat slaves, he do not have a comparison on anybody. For example, when Douglas felt himself sick, Convey made him to work as hard as all other healthy slaves. Douglas escapes from Convey several times. Douglas and Convey have a fight. After some tries, Douglas finally succeeded to run away to Massachusetts in 1868. This situation demonstrates the uncrashable will and obstinacy of this slave. It is better to die, than to strike flag for Frederic Douglas. Douglas speaks such words: “In coming to a fixed determination to run away, we did more than Patrick Henry, when he resolved upon liberty or death” (Frederick Douglass). He compared the slaves’ aiming to freedom and a campaign of the American Revolutionary for rights. Douglas is not in a fit state to change the whole system, but he does it for himself. Afterwards, he becomes a participant of anti-slavery motion in Massachusetts. He tries to annihilate the concept of slavery. He lives in a free state and has an opportunity to struggle with oppression being safe. Frederick Douglass uses his chance to fight and win; in contrast to Billy Budd, who was suppressed by legacy system.

In fact, both Billy Budd and Frederick Douglass deal with woes getting over the social oppression. Billy managed to gain a small local victory on a ship. He released a crew from an evil master and made Captain Vere to think about his morality. In Douglass’ case he got rid of oppression himself and then helped other people who were depressed by the slavery society. There are still some examples of violence and oppression in contemporary life, but it occurs more rarely than in the time of Billy Budd and Frederick Douglas. These stories and characters demonstrate to the humans their great power. They prove that even one person can achieve a great deal and change many things in his or her life and in the life of humanity as a whole.

Conclusion

There is every indication that Frederick Douglass and Herman Melville are the remarkable classical American writers. Due to their creative work, the contemporary society can find out about the lifestyle and problems of those years, comparing them with the present time. Such issues as slavery, racism, freedom and abolition are presented in their books. These narratives help readers to imagine the life of the nineteenth-century America, learn a lesson from the historic events and draw a conclusion for the future. Doubtless, these books are really worth to read and think over.

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