Essay PreviewMore ↓
Some have misinterpreted Melville's Billy Budd as a story about the distinction between divine justice, on the one hand, and human justice, on the other. Here's a summary of the "incorrect" reading that leads to this conclusion: When John Claggart falsely accuses Billy Budd of inciting mutiny, Captain Vere (whose name suggests "truth") arranges a confrontation between the accuser and the accused. When Claggart shamelessly repeats the lie to Budd's face and when Captain Vere insists that Budd defend himself and when Budd is struck speechless (if you like) and, therefore, STRIKES Claggart who falls down dead, Captain Vere suddenly has a problem on his hands, a problem he did not bargain for. You see, he feels that Budd is innocent but he also knows that he has killed a superior officer, an offense punishable by death. Here's how Melville presents Captain Vere's argument at the drumhead court:
"How can we adjudge to summary and shameful death a fellow creature innocent before God, and whom we feel to be so? - Does that state it aright? You sign sad assent. Well, I too feel that, the full force of that. It is Nature. But do these buttons that we wear attest that our allegiance is to Nature? No, to the King. Though the ocean, which is inviolate Nature primeval, though this be the element where we move and have our being as sailors, yet as the King's officers lies our duty in a sphere correspondingly natural? So little is that true that, in receiving our commissions, we in the most important regards ceased to be natural free agents. When war is declared are we, the commissioned fighters, previously consulted? We fight at command. If our judgments approve the war, that is but coincidence. So in other particulars. For suppose condemnation to follow these present proceedings. Would it be so much we ourselves that would condemn as it would be martial law operating through us? For that law and the rigor of it, we are not responsible. Our vowed responsibility is this: That however pitilessly that law may operate, we nevertheless adhere to it and administer it. . . .
"To steady us a bit, let us recur to the facts. - In war-time at sea a man-of-war's man strikes his superior in grade, and the blow kills.
How to Cite this Page
"Free Billy Budd Essays: Justice in Billy Budd." 123HelpMe.com. 28 Jan 2020
Need Writing Help?
Get feedback on grammar, clarity, concision and logic instantly.Check your paper »
- A Deconstructive Reading of Billy Budd Billy, who cannot understand ambiguity, who takes pleasant words at face value and then obliterates Claggart for suggesting that one could do otherwise, whose sudden blow is a violent denial of any discrepancy between his being and his doing, ends up radically illustrating the very discrepancy he denies. - Barbara Johnson, p. 86 With Barbara Johnson's splendid Critical Difference we are willy-nilly plunged into deconstruction. At the moment I shall not attempt to explain this radical and highly subversive critical mode, except to say that what you are about to see is an example of it.... [tags: Billy Budd Essays]
1512 words (4.3 pages)
- A Structuralist Reading of Billy Budd . . . truth is revealed only when formal order is destroyed. - Dryden, p. 209 Not on your life, says Edgar A. Dryden (though not in so many words, of course) to the above in his splendid Melville's Thematics of Form. His argument is essentially to show that while most readers (erroneously) assume that Captain Vere is the story's tragic hero, the fact of the matter is that a "better" reading will reveal him as Melville's target, if you want to know the "truth." I want to emphasize at the outset is that EVERYTHING DRYDEN SAYS IS SUPPORTED BY THE TEXT he is analyzing.... [tags: Billy Budd Essays]
751 words (2.1 pages)
- Billy Budd, Sailor was written by Herman Melville in 1891, but was not discovered until 1924. Melville included two similar, yet morally very different characters that are of importance to the plot, Billy Budd and John Claggart. These characters are integrious opposites of each other, Billy Budd representing “good” and Claggart representing “evil”. Like almost any movie or book, good and evil collide, and there is no exception in this novel. Melville uses this story, and these characters, to express some very powerful and thoughtful views on good and evil people, showing the great wisdom he had achieved during his life.... [tags: Good and evil, Evil, Billy Budd, Herman Melville]
2308 words (6.6 pages)
- Billy Budd as Christ In this novel, Billy Budd, Melville acts as a "Creator", in that he gives Billy Budd certain superhuman qualities, which allows him to posses the traits of a servant of God. Billy Budd appears Christ-like, because of his peace-making abilities. Although, he is a peacemaker whom will fight for what he believes in and to keep peace. In the beginning of the novel, when Red Whiskers gives Billy Budd problems, he strikes him with a powerful blow and does not have any more problems with him or the crew again.... [tags: Billy Budd Essays]
952 words (2.7 pages)
- 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.... [tags: Billy Budd Essays]
680 words (1.9 pages)
- Biblical Allegories in Billy Budd Herman Melville's Billy Budd is a novel with many biblical allegories ranging from subtle references to quite obvious similarities between characters and Biblical figures. One of the most prevalent and accepted similarities is that of "Billy as Adam" (Berthoff, Certain 33) around the time of the Fall, "The ground common to most discussion of Billy Budd is the assumption that the story is allegorical ... a reenactment of the Fall" (Berthoff, Certain 32).... [tags: Billy Budd Essays]
598 words (1.7 pages)
- The Tragedy of Justice in Billy Budd Charles Reich's assessment of the conflict in Billy Budd focuses on the distinction between the laws of society and the laws of nature. Human law says that men are "the sum total of their actions, and no more." Reich uses this as a basis for his assertion that Billy is innocent in what he is, not what he does. The point of the novel is therefore not to analyze the good and evil in Billy or Claggart, but to put the reader in the position of Captain Vere, who must interpret the laws of both man and nature.... [tags: Herman Melville Billy Budd Essays]
534 words (1.5 pages)
- Billy Budd - Thoreau and Melville The story of Billy Budd provides an excellent scenario in which to compare and contrast Thoreau and Melville. The topics of government-inspired injustice and man's own injustice to man can be explored through the story. Thoreau's position is one of lessened government and enhanced individualism, while Melville's is one of group unity and government's role to preserve order. The opinions of Melville and Thoreau outline the paradox of government: Government cannot exist without man, and man cannot exist without government.... [tags: Billy Budd Essays]
1083 words (3.1 pages)
- Comparing Billy and Christ in Billy Budd Herman Melville's Billy Budd provides us with a summation and conclusive commentary on the ambiguities of moral righteousness and social necessity. The conflict that arises pitting natural justice in opposition to military justice essentially deliberates over whether the sacrifice of the individual is required for the continuum and conservation of social order. The deep allegorical theme of the passion of Christ that resides in Billy Budd illustrates Melville's adjudication on this issue.... [tags: Billy Budd Essays]
3108 words (8.9 pages)
- Reader Reaction to Billy Budd I approached Melville's Billy Budd with a mixture of trepidation and determination. I read the Introduction first, because I thought its purpose was to introduce the author, and place the selected stories in context and I thought this would be an aid to understanding. I was correct, but too correct, because Joyce Carol Oates, without warning of the spoiler, casually references Billy's death. I think this knowledge influenced my reading, because I was aware of the ultimate outcome, I read with the purpose of understanding why that came to be.... [tags: Billy Budd Essays]
1210 words (3.5 pages)
- A New Historical Reading of Billy Budd
- Free Billy Budd Essays: A Structuralist Reading
- The Changing of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
- American Gothic in Sleepy Hollow, Ligeia and They Got a Hell of a Band
- A Comparison of Winthrop and Edwards to the Apostles of Christ
- Comparing and Contrasting Self-Awareness in the Works of Emerson, Whitman and Poe
"Aye, sir," emotionally broke in the officer of marines, "in one sense it was. But surely Budd purposed neither mutiny nor homicide."
"Surely not, my good man. And before a court less arbitrary and more merciful than a martial one that plea would largely extenuate. At the Last Assizes it shall acquit. But how here? We proceed under the law of the Mutiny Act. In feature no child can resemble his father more than that act resembles in spirit the thing from which it derives - War. In His Majesty's service - in this ship indeed - there are Englishmen forced to fight for the King against their will. Against their conscience, for aught we know. Though as their fellow creatures some of us may appreciate their position, yet as navy officers, what reck we of it? Still less recks the enemy. Our impressed men he would fain cut down in the same swath with our volunteers. As regards the enemy's naval conscripts, some of whom may even share our own abhorrence of the regicidal French Directory, it is the same on our side. War looks but to the frontage, the appearance. And the Mutiny Act, War's child, takes after the father. Budd's intent or nonintent is nothing to the purpose." (68-70)
I hope it is clear from this long quotation that Captain Vere's position, eloquently as well as skillfully articulated here, is roughly the equivalent of Christ's injunction to render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and unto God what is God's. It is also the "origin" of the "incorrect" reading according to which the story is about a conflict between divine justice, on the one hand, and human justice, on the other. At this point I need to add only one more coda here and that is that Melville presents Billy's character in such as way as to imply that he is practically prelapsarian in his overall goodness while Claggart is presented in such a way as to seem most appallingly postlapsarian, or downright evil.