Billy Budd Sample Essay Outlines
by Herman Melville

Billy Budd book cover
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Sample Essay Outlines

Sample Analytical Paper Topics
These are topics on which you can write a substantial analytical paper. They are designed to test your understanding of major themes and details from the play as a whole. Following the topics are outlines you can use as a starting point for writing an analytical paper.

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Topic #1
Discuss the conflict between Good and Evil in Billy Budd. Consider the historical and geographic contexts for the various events in which the conflict between Good and Evil is expressed.

I. Thesis Statement: The setting for Billy Budd, aboard a ship in wartime, provides a world in miniature where the complexities of the conflict between Good and Evil unfold dramatically.

II. Impressment
A. Justification for impressment in wartime
B. Injury to personal freedom
C. The “Good” vs. the “Evil” aspects of impressment

III. The shipboard culture
A. Ordinary seamen vs. the officers
B. Obedience
C. Billy’s difficulties aboard the Indomitable
D. Dansker’s explanation

IV.The mutinous plot
A. Foreshadowing and context
B. The offer to Billy
C. Billy’s response
D. Claggart’s evil intent

V. False accusation
A. Foreshadowing, where Claggart is compared to the Rev. Titus Oates
B. Historical/political climate
C. Claggart’s charges
D. Billy’s anger and response
E. The reversal of Evil and Goodness

VI. The verdict
A. Guilt or innocence
B. Wartime exigency
C. Spiritual Good vs. Worldly Duty

VII. Attitudes toward death
A. The natural man
B. The sophisticated man

Topic #2
Discuss the character of each of the three protagonists in this story—Billy Budd, John Claggart, and Captain Vere. Explain the personification of Good and Evil as they appear respectively in Billy and Claggart. Explain the conflict between spirituality and devotion to martial duty within the heart of Captain Vere.

I. Thesis Statement: The three protagonists, Billy Budd, Claggart, and Vere, respectively personify Innocence, Evil, and the worldly mediation of moral duty.

II. Billy Budd
A. The Handsome Sailor
B. Mysterious origins
C. Innocence

III. John Claggart
A. Mysterious origins
B. Rapid rise
C. Aversion to Billy

(The entire section is 526 words.)