Essay On The Dilemma Of Billy Budd

683 words - 3 pages

The Dilemma of Billy Budd


Herman Mellville's Billy Budd is and extremely divisive novel when one considers the dissension it has generated. The criticism has essentially focused around the argument of acceptance vs. resistance. On the one hand we can read the story as accepting the hanging of Billy Budd as the necessary ends of justice. We can read Vere's condemnation as a necessary military action performed in the name of preserving order aboard the Indomitable. On the other hand, we can argue that Billy's execution as the greatest example of injustice.


The question has been asked if Vere's conduct is right or wrong. In either case, since Billy Budd is an ethical text, it is very odd that there is an absence of the emotion guilt.  Billy Budd is a story about two murders. Billy kills Claggart and Vere (although indirectly, the decision is ultimately his) kills Budd. Neither of the murderers demonstrate guilt in the form of remorse. For a narrative that tries to put the reader in a moral and ethical position, it is ironic that the characters themselves don't exhibit what would seem most ethical.


            Immediately following the fatal blow to Claggart, There is no outlet of Billy's emotion; whatever emotion he may be experiencing is not accounted for. This is not the behavior one would expect from someone who had just accidentally killed someone else. On trial Billy has this to say for his actions: "I did not mean to kill him. But he foully lied to my face and in the presence of my captain, and I had to say something, and I could only say it with a blow, God help me!" This statement illustrates Billy's emotional response to his crime; He shirks the full weight of his action by pointing to his accidental nature. Billy is sorry that Claggart was killed, but he states the utterance as a response without truly feeling apologetic. This statement is a plea to save himself more that a eulogy to Claggart, however a feeling of remorse for murdering another human being is...

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