Herman Melville’s Billy Budd, Sailor is about the necessity for law and order and
deciding whether to follow your personal beliefs versus following the laws that have been set by
your society. In the novella, there is a situation where Billy Budd strikes Claggart. Captain Vere
is trapped with the predicament in dealing with Billy. “The way in which Captain Vere deals
with the situation exemplifies how society requires the division of one’s internal thoughts from
one’s societal responsibilities” (Davidson 127).
“The deepest controversy over Billy Budd hinges upon our estimate of Captain Vere.
Unlike Billy and Claggart, Vere is an ordinary man of the world; unlike every other character in
the novel, he is called upon to make a moral decision –for even the members of the drumhead
court, after they have expressed their reservations , merely agree to accede to the verdict Vere
has directed. The central question, to put it as bluntly as possible, is whether Vere’s decision, that
Billy must be hanged, is the right one. Vere was seen as embodying Melville’s acceptance of the
tragic conflict between divine and human law, and of the horrible necessity, upon occasion, of
doing what goes against one’s natural feelings for the sake of upholding society’s demands”
Chapter 64 of Moby Dick gives us a very in depth look at how the world would be if laws
were not set for society to follow. “Fellow-critters: I’se ordered here to say dat you must stop dat
dam noise dare. You hear? Stop dat dam smackin’ ob de lip! Massa Stubb say dat you can fill
your dam bellies up to de hatchings, but by God! You must stop dat dam racket! You is sharks,
sartin: but if you gobern de shark in you, why den you be angel; for all angel is noting more dan
de shark well goberned.” (Melville, Dick, 251). Melville is trying to illustrate that without law... [continues]
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