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Critical Essay On Billy Budd - School Essays

Critical Essay On 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.
Reich supports Vere's decision to hang Billy. In defense of this he
alludes to a famous English court case, in which three men were accused of
murder. However, the circumstances which led ...

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by lashing out at Claggart. I agree with Reich's notion that Vere was
correct in hanging Billy, and that it is society, not Vere, who should be
criticized for this judgement; for Vere is forced to reject the urgings of his
own heart and his values to comply with the binding laws of man.
First, the moral issue aside, Captain Vere had no choice but to convict
Billy. As captain of a ship under pressure of war and the constant threat of
mutiny, Vere had to act swiftly. Also, as captain, Vere had the responsibility
of making sure the laws were strictly enforced, including the Mutiny Act.
Although Vere knew in his heart Billy was innocent, Billy's actions had to be
punished.
For Vere to have acquitted Billy would mean that he had placed the
divine law of nature above the laws he was bound to enforce as captain of a
British ship. Although this would have been morally right, who is to say where
to draw the line? This rhetorical question is what Melville wants his readers to
think ...

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PAPER DETAILS
Added: 12/8/2006 11:58:15 AM
Category: Book Reports
Type: Premium Paper
Words: 521
Pages: 2

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