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Melville's Characters/comparison of Captain Ahab and Billy Budd

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Melville's Characters

Melville's characters are distinct individuals that have some similarities and differences. There are three traits that tie Captain Ahab and Billy Budd together even though they are on different sides in the fight between Good and Evil. They each have communication problems that play a part in their deaths. Neither of them can see an issue from another point of view, nor can they be influenced by others, although for entirely different reasons. Ahab and Billy share a few traits even though they are generally opposite characters.

Communication problems are one of the factors that lead to Ahab's and Billy's deaths. Ahab never tells the entire truth to his men. He only tells them the parts that he thinks will motivate them to help him catch the whale. If the entire crew had been told before they signed on to help that they would be hunting the most dangerous whale in the sea none of them would have gone on the voyage and died. Also, Ahab is so inflexible that no matter how heated the conversation gets, he won't change his opinion. Starbuck can't talk any common sense into Ahab, he's just too stubborn. If Ahab had listened to Starbuck, he might have died an old man instead of the way he did. Billy's communication with others helps and hurts him. When Billy talks to people they almost always come away from the conversation with good feelings about Billy. He makes a lot of friends that way. However, Billy has troubles communicating too. He cannot sense if the person he is talking to is truthful or not. He talks to Squeak several times but never even guesses that Squeak is talking to him for mischievous purposes. Billy also stutters when he's overcome, when he can't find words to describe the emotions he is experiencing. He ends up dying because of this character flaw.

Neither Ahab or Billy can see more than one side of an issue. Throughout the entire trip, Ahab never thinks of chasing the whale as something dangerous, something that shouldn't be done. Nearly everyone else on the ship, excluding Fedallah, thinks that chasing after one whale, the most dangerous whale in the entire ocean, is crazy and that it's an unnecessary risk of the crew's lives. But Ahab, because of his inability to consider his crew's views about the hunt and because he can only think of the whale as pure evil, condemns them all to death. Billy can only see an issue in one way, innocently. He simply cannot think any other way. He never suspects Claggart or anyone would to something



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