Reading Billy Budd, Sailor as the Homoerotic National Elegy

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Oh, Ye Sul
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서울대학교 인문대학 영어영문학과
영학논집 vol. 36, pp. 25-45
Herman MelvilleBilly BuddSailorelegyhomoeroticismexceptionalism
As a text multilayered with religious, ethical, and political frameworks, Billy Budd, Sailor (1924) presents a perplexing case. Accordingly, the novella has drawn much scholarly attention, often acutely divided, but its critical scope remains rather too confined to the readings of the text as a religious, ethical, or political allegory. Based on this observation, this paper is grounded upon the belief that integrating another indispensable topic of the novella, passion, complements Billy Budd criticism and therefore, actively delves into its latent homoeroticism. While I do not diverge from the conventional interpretation of the text as Melville’s lifelong pursuit of Truth, I argue that Billy Budd, Sailor is most properly understood when it is read as a homoerotic national elegy. In lieu of identifying the trinity of characters as right and wrong, good and bad, or of leaning too much to the issue of homoeroticism, especially to the failure of (compulsory) homosociality, as a few recent critics have done, I view Claggart and Billy mainly as vehicles for the author to mourn for the lost times of America. Whereas Melville presents these two characters and the theme of homoeroticism as emblematizing Hellenistic, or even Neoplatonic energy of the bygone days, Vere displays the pitfalls of the strictly Calvinistic, “conventional” sense of judgment that is not unrelated to the shortcomings of American exceptionalism.
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College of Humanities (인문대학)English Language and Literature (영어영문학과)영학논집(English Studies)영학논집(English Studies) No.36 (2016)
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