Serving Justice in the Case of Billy Budd
From the case of Billy Budd, one must ponder about several important questions in regards to the power of the law and the extent to which it should be recognized. “Although Billy Budd killed Claggart unintentionally, he was aware that striking a superior officer was a serious offense, however, Claggart had provoked him by accusing him of organizing a mutiny” (Hunte). Thus, Billy Budd is described as the following, “His simple nature remained unsophisticated by those moral obliquities which are not in every case incompatible with that manufacturable thing known as respectability” (Melville). Perhaps Melville is emphasizing the point that Billy is some sort of special moral being, completely incapable of conceiving evil and bearing malice. Perchance, the case of Billy Budd should not be manipulated to fit the law; rather the law should be made to fit the case. In society, laws are made to serve justice and to protect individuals. Each case has unique circumstances and no one case is the same. Therefore, in order for justice to be served, the laws should be interpreted differently in each case. Captain Vere has illustrated his realization that this case has special circumstances, stating that “This case is an exceptional one” (Melville). Everyone on the Bellipotent knows Billy for his kindness; Billy even has attempted to befriend Claggart. By sentencing Billy to death, the Drumhead Court would eliminate a kind-spirited and hard-working man from the ship. Billy’s good heart and benevolent nature show that he is not likely to kill another man in the future, and killing him won't protect any individuals. Since a law is made for serving justice and protecting people, and sentencing Billy to death does neither. Furthermore, there are many things that make this case unique, and that need to be taken into consideration when devising Billy’s punishment. When considering this case, one must recognize that Billy Budd is...
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