Billy Budd Literature Essay

1168 words - 5 pages

In order to thrive is it necessary to conform to society? In Billy Budd, Herman Melville leaves many topics open-ended, leaving us to question whether these events are just. Justice and martial duty revolve around internal conflict between an individual and society. Individuals’ character is attested when they have to decide between what is morally right, and what has to be done to maintain order in society. Imposed martial law eliminates true justice in individuals. The struggle of internal conflict is displayed when Captain Vere’s military disciplinarian is placed over fatherly instincts, Billy’s impressment creating his want to preserve individual honor, and the Chaplain putting order over faith.
Imposed martial law eliminates true justice in Captain Vere. The need to follow order of society overcomes Vere’s personal admiration for Billy. Vere has to decide whether to do what is best for the naval community and order, or to listen to what he knows is internally just for the innocent sailor Billy. During this time loyalty to the mother country was crucial, the sailors were fighting for something bigger than themselves. Captain Vere began to like Billy Budd, acting towards him in a fatherly manner. When Claggart accuses Billy of mutiny, Vere brings him in for questioning. His initial approach is stern and forward to Billy, telling him to stand up for himself when Claggart comes at him with precise comments. After he sees Billy
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struggling to create a statement, Vere softens his approach and tells him to take his time. Billy is now even more conflicted, and with one blow to the head he kills Claggart. “The father in him, manifested towards Billy thus far in the scene, was replaced by the military disciplinarian. In his official tone he bade the foretopman retire to a stateroom aft, and there remained till thence summoned”(83) Captain Vere immediately turns to his role in martial law as a commander, over his fatherly instincts. This event shifts to Vere calling the small drumhead court, without any waiting or questioning if it is the right thing to do. Vere is completely aware of Billy’s innocence, and in a sense “supernatural” nature, and still knowing his intentions he continues to proceed. In the trial Vere speaks for Billy, and he tells the court this is a special case, and in order to judge correctly they must put aside any intentions or circumstances that arise. “But for us here, acting not as casuists or moralists, it is a case practical, and under martial law practically to be dealt with.” (96) Vere sides with society, he does not let conscience sway him to Billy. He knows Billy must be sentenced quickly, or the rest of the crew will understand Billy has killed a superior, and got away with it.
Imposed martial law eliminates true justice on Billy Budd. Symbolically, Billy must leave the merchant ship Rights-of-Man, to join the Bellipotent (literally meaning powerful in war). This peaceful ship used to transport goods,...

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