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Billy Budd – Individualism Essay, Research Paper

There is much to be said about individualism. Feelings of freedom and endless possibilities for individual growth are presented throughout these two novels. Although being an individual has its high points, it is not always the road to take. Billy Budd and Ignatius Reilly were both prime examples of individuals. They both showed individualism in their looks and their actions. Individualism ultimately killed or ran off each of these characters.

Billy Budd has remarkable looks. He is known as the “Handsome Sailor”. He is tall with dark skin and rippling muscles. People admired him for his actions as well as his looks. He was the peacemaker on the ship. He was the individual everyone looked up and turned to. When Billy was going to be taken from his ship Captain Graveling was not happy about it, “Lieutenant, you are going to take away my best man from me, the jewel of ‘em” (Melville 46). Billy was then removed from the ship. His goodbye was thought of as rather odd though. He left the Rights-of-Man waving a “genial goodbye”. (Melville 49) Many would be devastated if they were forced to serve their country but Billy looked at it as an opportunity to gain new experiences (Ellis), “He rather liked this adventurous turn in affairs, which promised an opening into novel scenes and martial excitements” (Melville 49).

A final way he shows individualism is when the chaplain approached him at the end of the story trying to explain to him how to gain salvation before his death, but Billy stayed true to his beliefs about God (Wood),”?one whom though on the confines of death he felt he could never convert to a dogma; nor for all that did he fear for his future” (Melville 121). An individual sets out to do what they want to do. Here Billy Budd does not conform to the beliefs of others and sticks to what he believes right up to his death.

Billy Budd shows the positive side of individualism. On the opposite side of that, Ignatius showed the negative side.

Ignatius J. Reilly showed his individualism with his bad looks and his rude personality. He was very obese with black stringy hair and full-pursed lips, which protruded beneath the bushy black moustache. (Toole13) The nature in which Ignatius dressed was rather unappealing to the general public’s eye, “Ignatius sent waves of flesh rippling beneath the tweed flannel, waves that broke upon buttons and seams” (Melville 13-14). These words put a picture in the readers mind and helps proves a point that Ignatius doesn’t care how he looks, where most people do.

A big way that Ignatius’ individualism shines through is how he lives his life. Ignatius, a 30-year-old man still living at home with his mother, does not have a job. He does not find this to be out of the norm. His mother and he have heated arguments of when he will go out and get a job, “Ignatius a big man like you can’t pedal around on no bike delivering newspapers.” “Perhaps you could drive me?” “Listen, boy, you gonna go try somewheres tomorrow. I mean it” (Toole 73).

When Ignatius does find a job he does not conform to what the rules are of the job. (Wood) He takes it upon himself to go above his superior and do his job the way he wants to, “Ignatius went to the filling cabinets, picked up the accumulated and unfilled material, and threw it in the wastebasket” (Toole 125). To most, this would seem strange, but not to Ignatius. He likes to do things his way and not bow down to others rules.

Being an individual has it good points and it’s bad. Billy Budd brought out all the high aspects of it by being a leader and peacemaker to all of his shipmates. Even though in the end he was punished for standing up for what he believes, in his individualism will not be forgotten by his crew. Ignatius, on the other hand, showed the low side of being an individual. His lifestyle did affect many people but in a negative instead of a positive way. Ignatius will be remembered as a bull-headed fat man who did not amount to anything, and Billy Budd will be remembered as the “Handsome Sailor” who made peoples lives a little easier. The authors try and include different ways of doing things in each of the stories. By making each of the characters an individual they can show how society works against those who choose to be different.

Ellis, Brian. “Melville Comments.” April 4, 1998.

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