Date of Award

Spring 5-29-2020

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Kelvin Black

Second Advisor

Jeremy Glick

Academic Program Adviser

Janet Neary


My thesis examines how Herman Melville’s Billy Budd, Sailor raises destabilizing questions about the function of government, its manipulation of the governed through institutions such as the law, education, and religion, as well as its infringement on the rights of the individual in various, often subtle ways. The power relations aboard the British naval warship, Bellipotent, are explored through a Foucauldian lens, utilizing the ideas Michel Foucault elaborates in his lectures titled, “Governmentality.” How do governments ensure their continued existence as well as obedience from their citizens? How is justice in a society determined? How is one’s identity formed in a social structure? My thesis tackles these questions and concludes that Melville’s text urges readers to critically assess their belief system and consider to what degree their social and individual identities are shaped by their government and its policies and practices. This thesis demonstrates how the narrative invokes an awareness of the multitude of ways an individual is molded by the political and social structure under which he or she participates and how that largely shapes his or her thoughts and behavior within said social structure.



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