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The Tragedy Of Justice In Billy Budd By Charles A. Reich

1279 words - 5 pages

In all of Herman Melville’s short stories the captain is a tyrannical madman, but in Billy Budd, Sailor he changed things up and the captain, Captain Vere had compassion and a sensitive side to him, yet at the same time he had a military disciplinarian side to him. This is what made him such a controversial character. Captain Vere is all the talk, many critics have discussed the issue in their essay’s including Charles A. Reich’s “The Tragedy of Justice in Billy Budd” as well as Robert K. Martin’s “Is Vere a Hero?” Both essays argue whether Vere was the hero or the Villain. They also both question the fine line between law and humanity. Just because a law is made a law it doesn’t necessarily mean it is humane. When comparing the two essay’s the points made in Reich’s “The Tragedy of Justice in Billy Budd” are stronger than those made in Martin’s essay and therefore is more persuasive.
In Robert K. Martin’s essay “Is Vere a Hero?” he points out many faults in Vere’s actions involving the accusations against Billy. When Billy killed Claggart Vere immediately decided Billy’s fate. Martin points out that Vere fails to take into account Billy’s motives and intentions. Although motives and intentions do not change the fact that Billy killed Claggart it could’ve been the difference between life and death. Martin also argues that Vere made no attempt to prove whether a mutiny was really going to happen or not. When Billy was brought to trial Vere was the accuser, the witness, the judge, and even the defense council at times. He used his power to manipulate the court’s decision. Vere did not listen to Billy’s motives and intentions for killing Claggart but yet when Vere violated legal procedure his intentions mattered because he said they do. Martin made several clear points throughout his essay against Vere but another point of view on Vere could be more in favor of him.
In Charles A. Reich’s essay “The Tragedy of Justice in Billy Budd” he explains that although many people blame Vere for Billy’s death, it was not entirely his fault. He states that Melville gave him no choice; if the law is obeyed then Billy had to be hanged. Vere is in a position of high authority in which he is obligated to obey the law and not obeying it could result in a punishment for Vere. The Mutiny Act that is given in the book states that if someone even punches an officer it would result in death. This leaves no room to bend the law for Vere, Billy did not just punch Claggart, he killed him. The Mutiny Act seems completely unreasonable today but back then it was normal aboard the Bellipotent. Reich also says that Vere was unusually sensitive. He was often said to be fatherly towards Billy. When Billy was confronting Claggart he was unable to speak and Vere, remembering he has a speech impediment calms him down and tells him to take his time. Vere was not just a military disciplinarian; he was always very kind to Billy; however when it comes to keeping his oath he has to...

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