Herman Melville and his classic novella, Billy Budd, Sailor

5-8 pages (double-spaced, works cited)

This is a small research paper asking you to research the life and work of Herman Melville and to respond to his classic novella, Billy Budd, Sailor. Use MLA.

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The massive critical overview of American literature by Barrett Wendell called A Literary History of America, published in 1900 by Charles Scribner’s Sons, has only one line devoted to Herman Melville: “Hermann Melville, with his books about the South Seas… and with his novels of maritime adventure, began a career of literary promise, which never came to fruition.” In almost six hundred pages of criticism, Melville’s first name is misspelled and his literary reputation at the turn of the century is accurately described: his early “maritime adventure” novels showed promise in their popularity but his writing never took off, never became important. Today, of course, he is one of the most prominent figures in American letters and his masterpiece, Moby-Dick, is widely considered to be the “great American novel.”

What changed? Answer the following:

The writer:

Who was Herman Melville (1819-1891)?

Describe his early experiences at sea. How did they impact his first books? What were his first books called and how did they display his own maritime experiences?

What is Moby-Dick about and why is it so famous? (Can you find any connections to it in today’s popular culture? How did Shakespeare and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein influence the novel?)

What was the “Melville Revival” and how did it change how we think of him as a writer? How is Billy Budd important in this regard? (Where was Billy Budd found and when was it published?)

The story:

What is Billy Budd about? When and where does the story take place? What is the legal problem presented in the story? How is it resolved? Be sure to discuss the characters of Billy, Claggart, and Captain Vere. (QUOTE FROM THE STORY.)


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