Good vs. Evil


Though there may be different views as to which human actions might be classified as either good or evil, the fact remains, as writers of fiction, Good versus Evil is at the heart of every book we write.

In my experience, nowhere is that tension between good and evil more graphically portrayed than in Herman Melville’s novella Billy Budd.

In the story, Billy Budd is the personification of GOOD, while Master-at-Arms John Claggart is the personification of EVIL. As they do in real life, GOOD and EVIL clash, with Budd, in a fit of pique, striking Claggart, causing him to fall. He bangs his head on the ship’s deck and dies.

The Captain of the ship, named Vere (VIR, the Latin root for “man” [hint, hint]) knows Budd is GOOD and didn’t intend to kill Claggart. He also knows that for the sake of “societal order” he must punish Budd (“societal order” for killing someone requires death by hanging). Budd, personifying GOOD, accepts his punishment. Here, Melville allows Budd to articulate what he has learned from this ordeal, i.e., his new awareness that there is EVIL in the world: “I don’t know, Captain. I never was a hand to wonder about things, but now I think that maybe there’s a kind of cruelty in people that’s just as much a part of them as kindness, say, or honesty…

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