Captian Vere's reactions to Billy Budd in Billy Budd

Captian Vere's reactions to Billy Budd in Billy Budd

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Captian Vere's reactions to Billy Budd in Billy Budd


When Captain Vere says “Struck dead by an angel of God! Yet the angel must hang!” his attitude towards Billy Budd changes from one of paternal concern and personal respect to one in which he has set aside his personal thoughts and feelings for the sake of his nation. Each sentence represents this dichotomy by indicating his sentiment towards Billy. In the first, Billy is “an angel of God” who has “struck” Claggart dead, in a righteous manner. In the second sentence, “the angel must hang,” indicates that no matter Billy’s intentions or nature, his act is a crime against his country.

Vere, between Billy’s outburst and his own divided exclamation, acts maniacally, but methodically. He follows procedure for confirming Claggart’s condition, but does not refer to the event in terms of its secular implications. Instead, he calls it the “divine judgment on Ananias.” His behavior throughout this passage, which extends for only about a page, is frantic and disturbed. He acts as a “military disciplinarian” towards the disturbed Billy, ordering him to stay in his stateroom, but when the “prudent surgeon” enters the room, he acts with haste, interrupting his salute.

Yet, when the baffled surgeon confirms Vere’s worst fears, he becomes “motionless, standing absorbed in thought.” He then convulsively compares Billy to the Angel of Death. Here, Vere is beginning to recognize the consequences of this event, and the necessary actions he must take as captain. Captain Vere returns to his intellectual, patriotic nature, as he becomes again the man whose “settled convictions were as a dike against those invading waters of novel opinion social, political, and otherwise.” Vere is not one given easily to fits of discomfiture or moral dilemma. He believes strongly in the right of his nation and military, and disciplines himself and his men accordingly. Yet, for the first time we are aware of, Vere becomes torn between his father-like love for Billy and his son-like love for his country.

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It is only through a moment of deep reflection that Vere’s intellect regains control, and he is able to recognize that he cannot protect Billy, and that he must, in fact, see to it that he is hung! In a time where the Navy is susceptible to mutiny, no exceptions can be made. Captain Vere recognizes that there are bigger things than he and Billy, so he pushes aside his private concerns for the cause of the greater good.
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