Critical Essays Purpose of Billy Budd

In the last chapter, Melville reveals Billy’s immortality. His fellow sailors, moved by a face that never sneered or revealed vileness of heart, raise Billy to the level of legend and saint. One from his own watch is so influenced by his sad tale that he creates a crude ballad as a tribute.

Certainly Melville creates the tale as radical social commentary growing out of his own experiences, not only with seafarers, but with a full panorama of human types. Perhaps too Melville is emphasizing immortality attained in the literary world. If this supposition is true, he creates the final and supreme irony with this fable in that it rescued him from literary oblivion with its posthumous publication. Like his hero and his villain, Melville in death gained much greater stature than he ever achieved in life.