The world in which we live in now is much less oppressive than say the world lived in the middle of the 1800’s. Up until the Civil War, the South depended on their ‘peculiar institution’ of slavery, in order to be productive a successful. Most people believed slavery was not wrong, but those who thought otherwise seldom tried to alter it. In general if surrounded by oppressive environment, one does not usually try to make a difference in that world. This is because people are afraid to defend what is right against a whole mass of people who believe otherwise.
Huck Finn in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Billy Budd in Billy Budd, and Frederick Douglass in his autobiography all portray individuals who because of their good, innocent qualities go up against the oppression in their society. Living in an oppressive society does not always draw you to do the wrong thing you are still capable of generating change, whether it be for a certain individual or against a whole mass of people. Billy Budd starts off on the ship the “Rights of Man”, Melville obviously showing his intent in the naming of the first ship. This shows that on this ship where Billy wanted to be and chose to be he had rights.
That he and the other crew had choices of what to do and how to be. Then along comes the British navy and decides that they are going to take Billy aboard their ship “Power of War”. This is when Billy is brought into an oppressive society. This is the navy and wartime during which rules must be followed as well as a lifestyle that must be followed. Billy is a poor innocent boy with a childish stutter. This stutter shows Billy’s humane side, a flaw, as well as leading you to the thinking that he has the innocence of a child. This stutter is connected to innocence because of its childish qualities.
When most children begin speaking they have some sort of stutter, which usually goes away. The stutter parallels innocence because it is showing that you are just learning how to talk and don’t really comprehend the correct way to make sounds, as you grow older you learn and the stutter disappears. Like innocence you are born with it, but as you grow older you usually are not portrayed as innocent any longer. Billy is like the premature kid who still has both his stutter and his innocence. Billy is introduced to many people aboard his new ship and is confronted by John Claggart.
In this movie Claggart is the one who Billy must actually go up against. Being in an oppressive society and Claggart being the master Billy is forced to listen to Claggart. Although he tries to avoid him he is nevertheless confronted by him. Claggart and Billy are totally opposite in character. Claggart is an evil man who is out to get Billy whereas Billy is a sweet innocent young man who tries to help others. It is these two opposite traits that eventually lead to the death of both of these men. Billy tries to avoid Claggart because he has heard of his evil and does not want to deal with it.
It is until he hears of Claggart’s accusations that he is involved in a mutiny that he confronts him leading to the deathblow, which Billy delivers to Claggart. Captain Vere now holds a court to determine Billy’s consequences. Captain Vere is torn here between doing the right thing morally and doing the right thing legally, and in the end he realizes he has sworn to uphold the law and does just that. Billy did indeed kill a higher officer and according to the laws must be sentenced death. On the other hand, Billy was sticking up for himself. Captain Vere’s legal side wins the battle; Billy is condemned and hanged.
Billy’s hanging meant a lot. It tore the officers among themselves, most saying Billy was justified in his actions therefore should not be punished to the extent of death. This makes a difference in the whole issue of oppression aboard this ship. We now know that the officers, while usually acting inhumane, actually do have a humane side and are capable of being in touch with that side when needed. Billy changes the society by killing Claggart because now no one aboard the ship will have to deal with his evilness again, although Billy and his goodness did not prevail in this oppressive society the lasting effects of his actions will.
By killing Claggart he has forcefully removed all of the evil, except Squeek, aboard this ship. During the trial we are shown Captain Vere’s human side with his struggle to decide which is more important moral or legal. While most would agree that he should have gone with his moral side one realizes that Captain Vere is not evil. He is the medium between Billy who is the best end of good and Claggart who is as evil as it gets. When being hanged Billy yells out “God bless Captain Vere”, which shows until the end he was still good and makes Captain Vere feel awful, it was now too late to save poor Billy Budd.
Billy’s doing this may have forever changed Captain Vere into making the ‘right’ decision next time, one can only speculate. Billy was just a boy oppressed onto a ship that he didn’t want to be on, but Frederick Douglass was born a black man in the south, a society raging with slavery. And like Fredierick Douglass he was living in an oppressive society and managed to initiate change among the oppressive society. Frederick Douglass was born a black man into pre-Civil war southern society. On January 1, 1834 his master, Master Thomas ordered Douglass, to go to a man named Covey.
Covey is much like Claggart except for the degree of intelligence which Covey seemed to lack. They are also alike in the fact they were both determine to uphold their jobs. Claggart was an official and had to make the right legal decisions and Covey was a slavbreaker who had to do that to slaves in order to keep his job. Covey looks at Douglass as an animal, an ox, and treats him like one too. This is like Claggart who treated the people aboard the ship as machines and not as humans. Covey was a slavebreaker; thus, beating the blacks who were sent to him to be broken in.
Douglass gets sick and Covey does not believe that he is sick only that he wanted to get out of working so he continues to treat him as a healthy slave would be treated. This is where Covey and Douglass begin their escapades with each other. Douglass begins to mouth off to Covey saying he wished he had another master and this leads to Douglass running away and then returning and then the final incident and to Douglass ultimately escaping. Throughout these few ordeals it shows that Douglass would rather die then to give in. He looked to God to help him through and in the end that must have worked, for he escaped.
Douglass does not change society as a whole nor does he change something for somebody else. He changes the oppressive state for himself. He escaped to Massachusetts in 1868. This is where he tries to attack the society as a whole. In Massachusetts he became an active anti-slavery lecturer. By changing his surroundings, those of an oppressed person he was given the chance to try and change slavery as an institution. By escaping to a free state he was able to attack the institution of slavery and be safe, instead of attacking one master and having to suffer consequences.
Unlike Billy Budd who did not prevail in his oppressive society Frederick Douglass has the chance to. While putting his life on the line to escape he still did it and in the end it would help him make a difference for all the people still succumbed by the harsh ‘peculiar institution. ” Frederick Douglass was a nonfictional black who had to escape his master in order to gain freedom, Jim in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was also a black who was mustered into slavery. Huck Finn is a young white boy who does, at first, seem unaffected by the institution of slavery.
He lives with a woman named Widow Douglas because his Pap is a drunkard and abusive. Jim is a older black man who is enslaved by a woman called Miss Watson, who happens to be Widow Douglas’ sister. This is the first relationship of Jim and Huck. It is not until Pap captures Huck and Huck is forced to escape from him that he meets Jim for real. Huck escapes from his abusive father to Jackson’s Island where he finds Miss Watson’s runaway slave Jim. At first sight of Jim Huck was glad to see him for he did not want to be lonesome anymore.
Then Huck is faced with the first and everlasting dilemma of their friendship. Jim was not a person he was a slave and slaves were property; therefore, he should be returned to his rightful owner, Miss Watson. This is a moral dilemma for Huck throughout the whole novel. When Huck finally decides he is not going to tell and return Jim it is his first opposition to society, he realizes how he would feel about himself knowing he turned Jim in. Huck has been brought up in a society where blacks are hated and not people; therefore, helping him to runaway is a sinful thing on Huck part.
In this episode you feel how Huck’s innocence and inner feelings can come above the bad and wrong of the society; thus, leading him to do the correct thing. It would not be morally correct to bring Jim back for he would be enslaved once again and that was an inhumane institution. Huck’s other major dilemma is to realize that Jim was human. This is the underlying factor in this novel. Huck is brought up to believe Jim not human and if he can overcome this idea society has taught him then he would not be brought to his other dilemma, if he should turn Jim in.
The whole novel develops the idea and ultimately Huck realizes that Jim is human who cares just as much about his life and family as does any white person. The first correlation between Huck and Jim is that they are both afraid of something that leads them to run away. For Huck this is his father, and for Jim it is slavery. Huck knows that he himself is human because he rarely does anything bad and when he does, like put the rattlesnake at Jim’s feet, he feels remorse for his actions and he also feels sympathy and hurt.
His sympathetic and hurtful side is shown when Buck dies later in the novel Huck cries because of how good Buck was to him before he died. Huck and Jim are both alike in that they are both superstitious. This is shown even before they run away when Huck goes to Jim in order for Jim to read his future through the hairball. The first real sign of human relationship on the raft trip is when Huck and Jim stay up all night talking, about moral issues in particular. During this time Huck tries to out reason Jim several times. Then there comes a fight in their friendship.
When they are on the raft and they get stuck in fog and Jim falls asleep. When he is awakened Huck pretends they never got separated and that it was a dream on Jim’s part. When Jim finally realizes it is not a dream but in fact what really happened he gets very mad at Huck and calls him trash leading Huck to apologize. By Huck apologizing for this incident you see that Huck is beginning to look at Jim as a person because he would not apologize to just a piece of property, for property has no feelings and you would need not apologize to something that has no feelings.
Huck also notes that Jim must be human to a level when he talks about his family. While Huck doesn’t think it is right Jim wants to free his family because they are someone else’s property, he still notices that Jim has a family and wants to be with them. The king and the duke are the people who push Jim to act more human than Huck thinks he is. This is because they push Jim to a point when he really starts to suffer. When Huck sees Jim suffering because of the duke and the king he realizes that Jim really is human.
Jim says ‘Dese is all I kin stan’” showing that he can’t take the king anymore. He doesn’t think the duke is as bad as the king is. And the king and the duke are the two people who bring the raft trip to an end. After they sold Jim Huck thinks it would have been better for him to have returned him to Miss Watson in the beginning where he knew Jim would be treated better than at some other plantations. Huck knows that society would look down upon him for helping Jim to escape and while Huck realizes Jim is a human it does not change his view of blacks in general.
When he tells Aunt Sally that nobody is hurt saying. “No’m. Killed a nigger”. This shows that while Huck has realized that Jim is not property, but human that it does no apply to all blacks, just to Jim. You understand that Huck sees Jim as a person especially since he’ll “go to hell” before he will betray Jim and turn him in. Huck is very surprised that Tom Sawyer is going to help free Jim, when in reality Tom already knew Jim was freed and was doing this stuff to a freed slave, while Jim gives up his freedom in order to help Tom when he gets shot in the leg.
By this time Huck already knows of Jim’s humanness and that is why he tries to help him out of the Phelp’s plantation. Huck overcomes society’s evilness towards blacks in one situation. Although he lives in a society who hates blacks he doesn’t necessarily do the wrong thing because of what society says. While Jim got his freedom in the end because of Miss Watson freeing him Huck still tried to help him overcome the society’s oppression against Jim. In all three of these instances Billy Budd, Frederick Douglass, and Huck Finn all try to overcome oppression of a society.
In Budd’s case it was not a huge force such as slavery was in the south, but he still had to overcome his own local oppression. Budd killed the real evil on his ship allowing for a better lifestyle for the remaining crewmembers. He also brought reality and morality to a higher level for the officers and Captain Vere, which may have changed them forever and this would not happen again. In Douglass’ life he overcame oppression for himself and by doing that he tried to help all of those who were affected negatively by the institution of slavery.
He ran away; thus, releasing himself from the oppressive nature of the south and after doing so he became an abolitionist trying to help others become like him and be freed. In Huck Finn Huck goes against all of what he knows in society to help Jim runaway. After finally realizing that Jim was human and that he should not give him back Huck does everything in his power to help Jim runaway. Huck’s innocence and good heartedness show through even when society would judge him wrong.
Huck overcame society’s oppression towards blacks for himself because he realized that Jim was a person and not a piece of property. Oppressive societies still remain in today’s world although not nearly as prevalent or as torturous as they were in the days of Billy, Frederick, Huck, and Jim. These characters can motivate one to show that you against a large oppressive society can, alone, make a difference. It may be only a small difference to one or two individuals, but any progress one can make is helpful.