What does the novella Billy Budd say about the relation between the individual and the state?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Although this novella's underlying theme is predominantly religious, it can also be said that Herman Melville is making a poignant case in favor of the individual's rights. The relationship between the individual and the state as portrayed in Billy Budd  is that the individual's rights should come before that of the state's. It is evident in the name of the ship, Rights-of-Man, from which Billy is taken. Furthermore, Melville makes it a point to mention that the captain of the Rights-of-Man is a firm supporter of Thomas Paine, who historically defended the rights of the individual over that of the state's. In contrast, the captain of the Bellipotent, where Billy is taken, believes in the rights of the state over the individual.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial