Billy Budd Essay: Moral Shades of Grey

Billy Budd Essay: Moral Shades of Grey

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Moral Shades of Grey in Billy Budd

 
Vere's decision, according to the Wartime Acts under which he was subject, was lawfully justified. To do anything else would be a direct violation of the law, and thus, the position in which he was placed. The captain could not follow any twinge of conscience that he felt, for it was not his position to do so. As Vere put it, "But do these buttons that we wear attest that our allegiance is to Nature? No, to the King." He and the judges were forced to follow their duty, which was to carry out the law. As officers of such a law, the morality of the decision was not their choice, as that same law dictated what they were to choose. The decision fell finally to Vere as he gave the speech which condemned Billy. "Our vowed responsibility is in this: That however pitiless that law may operate, we nevertheless adhere to it and administer it."

This was, however, not the only factor to be looked after. What options they had does not dictate the morality of an act, it is only one part of a larger whole. Law is, in itself, morality, by nature of the fact that to defy law results in chaos. Originally the law was created to serve as a means of carrying out Justice, but the sheer nature of the fact that it has since, as in this case, acted in some way other than to uphold such a concept proves that it is a separate entity unto itself. Rather than considering the morality of a decision in the administering of Justice, it is now reasonable and required to consider the law as a factor in determining the morality of a decision. When the virtue of the decision is determined, then can Justice, and thus punishment, be considered. It is important to understand this concept: law is no longer a means of carry...


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... choice, his decision is justified. Justification is as close to virtue as can be expected in this case. Life is not black and white, as theories of morality would dictate, but merely a complex set of shades of grey. Vere's final choice was only the highlights on a painting, the end of a process, and the selection among a set of distasteful colors on a palette of grey.

Works Cited and Consulted:

Chase, Richard. Herman Melville: A Critical Study. New York: Hafner Publishing Company, 1971.

Melville, Herman. Billy Budd, Sailor and Other Stories. Ed. Frederick Busch. New York: Penguin, 1986.

Richards, Lawrence O. The Bible Reader's Companion. Wheaton: SP Publications, Inc., 1991.

Stern, Milton R. The Fine Hammered Steel of Herman Melville. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1968.

The Holy Bible, New King James Version. Dallas: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1979.

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