This work examines Herman Melville's final work of prose fiction, "Billy Budd, Sailor". The author argues that Melville created two "Billy Budds" and that they exist as co-extensive narratives - one superimposed on the other, both tales occupying the same textual space, using the same words. In doing so, this monograph analyzes how Melville's own naval experience informed his fiction. The 'shell' story exists on the surface and has given the work its popularity. The 'kernel' story reconstitutes the outer narrative and consists of additions, qualifications, amplifications, and refutations of matter in the shell story, especially as one follows the narrator through his evocations of history, etymology, science, religion, and other disciplines. The kernel story modifies, qualifies, and redirects the shell story, and in so doing it resolves the shell story's apparent ambiguities, one by one. It actuates, broadens, and deepens the shell story, enlivening, generalizing, and universalizing it.
What begins in the shell story as a tragic account of a young, innocent sailor's misadventure becomes, with the addition of the kernel story, a summation of Melville's lifelong achievements and his final predictions of what may lie ahead for a civilization both fractured and frightening.
Publisher: The Edwin Mellen Press Ltd