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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.

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.

Outline
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.

Outline
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
D. Essential depravity

IV. Captain Vere
A. Comparison with Lord Nelson
B. Convictions
C. Superior intellect
D. Conscience vs. Worldly duty

V. Who is the real hero of Billy Budd?
A. The near-perfection of Billy Budd
B. Captain Vere’s human torment and its resolution

Topic #3
Discuss the biblical references throughout Billy Budd. Explain the source contexts for at least three of those references and the meanings for the similes and metaphors that Melville employs.

Outline
I. Thesis Statement: The biblical references serve to cast Billy Budd as a hero of spiritually epic dimension. Billy is portrayed as a Christlike figure, an innocent sacrifice for the sins of humanity, who remains blameless throughout his ordeal.

II. Adam before the fall
A. Natural faith
B. Innocence

III. Mysteries of Iniquity
A. God’s inscrutability
B. Second coming of Christ

IV. Saul and David
A. Love and jealousy
B. Attraction and repulsion

V. Ananias
A. Conspiracy
B. Divine judgment

VI. Abraham and Isaac
A. The favored son
B. Sacrifice of the innocent

VII. Billy as the Christ figure
A. For the good of all
B. Ascension

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Critical Evaluation