A Source for Herman Melville’s Billy Budd

This study investigates how Frederick Douglass and Herman Melville depict patterns of human resistance to domination in institutions like slavery and in practices like impressment.


“[In] eschew[ing] more traditional approaches to the intersection between the literature and the law in this maritime tale and to focus on the ethoi of forgiveness and agape. . . Jorif offers us a contrapuntal approach to the usual history of slavery and law in early modern America. . . . We are more often engaged in arguments over whether an action is just than over whether an injustice has been done. Jorif's study of agape and forgiveness in Billy Budd gives us a new handle on this problem by positing, among his observations, that the community that arises out of, or coalesces around, acts of loving forgiveness are just in ways that the law never approaches.” – Prof. Jon-Christian Suggs, The City University of New York

“Professor Jorif offers a new way to look at the dilemma of a nation that practiced slavery and that advocated universal brotherhood. He finds that Frederick Douglass dignifies the degraded lives of slaves by arguing that his black brethren create communities that honor the humanity of their members. Professor Jorif expands his thesis when he discovers a similar proposal in Melville’s Billy Budd.” – Prof. Marilyn L. Johnson, Cabrini College

“Professor Jorif magnificently bundles together American freedoms, human rights, racial oppression, sexual exploitation, torture, and Christian love in a paradoxical compendium of literary analysis linking Melville, Douglass, and Stowe. Professor Jorif’s pithy style contrasts with and so illuminates the complexity of the material he presents that he creates a chiaroscuro labyrinth of analogies. This book is an important and defiant defense of human dignity and true fraternity, which are the ideals of the Anglo-American experience. At the moment, they greatly need defending.” – Prof. Francis N. Elmi, Borough of Manhattan Community College

Table of Contents

Foreword by Jon-Christian Suggs
1. Slavery’s Law of Compensation
2. Frederick Douglass’ Providential Rediscovery of Africa: Agape
3. The Slave Narrative’s Use of Agape and Herman Melville’s Billy Budd