In 1891, the novel, Billy Budd, was published by Herman Melville. Readers claim the novel is a masterpiece, holding controversy about certain characters, especially captain Vere. In 1971, Charles A Reich had written “The Tragedy of Billy Budd” showing that Captain Vere was wrongly accused. In 2002, Robert Martin had written “Is Vere a Hero?” to show that Vere is no hero. Both works support their reasons well using textual evidence, however Reich’s work is more persuasive than Martin’s.
In Robert Martin’s critique, Is Vere a Hero?, he claims that Vere is not a hero. First Vere is a despotic captain. For example, He had manipulated the court of Billy Budd’s trial. Whoever spoke against the captain, Vere, would be killed. Also, when Vere learns about a possible mutiny, he takes the law into his own hands, strictly following the letter of the law and disregarding the spirit of the law. He then weighs both, private conscious and martial law to deal with the given situation. Vere then ...view middle of the document...
When Vere had meet Billy, Vere learns that, from the passion he had given to Billy, there are values beyond the law. At the scene of Billy Budd’s death, questions the law, how society enforces its laws, and the rejection of human values following laws. Laws destroy men, both moral and immoral, not yet distinguishing between the two types. For example, the newspaper article, A Depraved Criminal, symbolizes society’s failure to understand the spirit of the man. Society is a poor and artificial thing, condemning even the most moral of men. The blame should not be placed on Vere, rather to the law and society.
Of the two works, Reich is superior to Martin’s. Reich stresses how we should look past Vere’s view and look at him for what he is. For example, Reich writes “Vere comes to recognize that there are values beyond those which the law embodies”. This quote shows that, after Billy’s death, Vere learns that intentions do matter. Billy’s death was a result from Vere’s decision and Billy’s actions. However, readers shouldn’t blame Vere, due to him not knowing any better. Reich writes, “his [Vere] understanding is limited” and explains how Vere did not know that intentions did matter, before Billy’s death. The image being drawn is Vere understanding intentions did matter when it was too late.
Martin’s work is inferior, compared to Reich’s. Martin does support support his points well, but lacks at points. For example, “Who speaks for ‘civilized society’”, Martin writes and explains, but does not fully elaborates his point. The passage is explained to an extent, but does not answer the question ‘Who speaks for civilized society?‘. Also, Martin writes, “Slavery is at the heart of Billy Budd”. This quote confuses the reader in thinking that, ‘Why is slavery at the heart of Billy Budd?’. Martin leaves some of his points unsupported and confusing the reader. In comparison, Martin stands inferior to Reich.
Reich shows more of an explained reason, while Martin shows more of a general statement. In Reich’s work, the reader is barraged by many supporting reasons, unlike Martin’s. Both works show only a perspective of Captain Vere being a hero or not and a major point of controversy, in Billy Budd. Herman Melville’s novel is heavy in arguments, while also being well respected and known.