Essay on the Dilemma of Billy Budd

Essay on the Dilemma of Billy Budd

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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.

 

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... To read the story as either accepting or resisting an ethical dilemma is perhaps debatable. The point of the story may be to state man's need to punish and retaliate with injury through means that may be befogged. The reader may be upset with the death of Billy Budd not for the seemingly unjust killing of a sympathetic character, but for its illustration of a society coming apart at the seams; one which doesn't necessarily make sense considering human nature, but one that is so closely linked to social systems, it is doubtful that it could ever be changed.      

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