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Billy Budd Essay

1313 words - 5 pages

Often a person is torn between doing his duty, and doing what is right. This is a common problem to many people in everyday life, a problem that can have terrible results, such as death. Many authors have had to deal with making a tough choice, and so they try to capture the struggle between duty and heart in their books. A prime example of this is Billy Budd by Herman Melville. In this novel, Captain Vere was the man who found himself in a difficult position, where he had a hard decision to make. Billy had murdered the master-at-arms on board the ship, and so his punishment in military law was for Billy to be hung. It was the captain's duty to see this sentence carried out. On the other hand, Captain Vere cared a great deal for Billy, as Billy was a good sailor and a good man, and the captain didn't want to see harm come to Billy. The captain was torn between his duty and his heart. A person's emotions can often interfere with a person's duty. A captain aboard a ship during a time of war is given specific orders, orders he must obey without question. Yet at times, as in the case of Captain Vere, those orders can be very hard to carry out. Captain Vere was the captain abroad the "Indomitable." He was 40 years old, and a distinguished sailor. He was greatly admired among his men, because of his unassuming appearance and manner. Captain Vere was a well-educated man who would spend hours reading his great collection of books at sea. He was very conscious of the world around him, and he has considered the role he plays in the world around him with an open mind. Knowing his personality and these other facts about Captain Vere help the reader to understand the position he was in, and why he made the decision he did. The book begins as Billy Budd is taken off of his own ship, and placed on a British warship. This was known as impressment, and was a common practice of the British navy. They would take sailors off or other ships, sometime capture enemy ships, and force them into service for the British Crown ("Impressment"). Billy, while dissappointed about having to leave his old ship behind, accepted his duty and went onboard the "Indominable" with Captain Vere. Billy was immediately liked on the ship. He did his duty very well, and was a good man to talk to and be around. Captain Vere was very happy about the addition of Billy to the ship. He noted that Billy was always willing to work, and the captain started to like Billy. There was, however, one person on the ship who didn't care at all for Billy, and his name was Claggart. Claggart was the master-at-arms onboard the ship, which in other words meant he was the chief of police on the warship (Kincheloe). He was tall and slim, with a protruding chin that gave him a very commanding and authoratative gaze. Claggart appears to act unusally kindly towards Billy, which makes Billy wonder if something was amiss. When Billy asks another sailor what is going on...

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