Billy Budd Sailor is a novel written by Herman Melville, and it is classified as a sea narrative written in the early 19th century. The novel focuses on one character, William Billy Budd and his stay at sea. In addition, the story is written in the third person. The whole story takes place after the occurrence of the Great Mutiny near the Nore during the summer of the year 1797 at the Mediterranean Sea while the Napoleonic wars were taking place. In the novel, Billy Budd emerges as a handsome, youthful and a veteran sailor. Budd was assigned to a new ship and crew. He is good natured and easily hit off with the crew members. This indicates that he was a likeable person who had the capability to adjust any situation effortlessly.
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The novel has both the good and evil acts that captivate the imagination of the reader. At some point, it is evident that the crew members suspected each other for playing mutiny. Billy Budd Sailor was suspected of organizing a rebellion by Claggart who was ironically suspected to be a criminal by a majority of the crew upon arrival in the ship. Claggart is portrayed as a friendly facade, which misled Budd that he was not a threat, but in a real sense he was an evil man. Dansker was the only person who warned Budd that Claggart might be a criminal, hence a serious threat. Nevertheless, Budd dismissed Claggart’s allegations as false. Budd exhibited the virtue of integrity when he refused to heed to hearsay and believe the worst about another person. One evening on the ship, a mysterious stranger approached Budd and incited him to lead a rebellion. Again, Budd’s goodness prevailed when he refused to rebel against authority.
Budd did not have any intention to lead a mutiny, so he shared the news with Dansker, another crew member. Dansker felt that Claggart was intent on causing harm to him through the stranger. On the other hand, Claggart has already accused Billy of organizing the rebellion and he promptly informed Captain Verde of the threat. At this point, Claggart was forced to explain what he meant, because Budd was a likeable person and everyone on the ship was on his side. Claggart emerges as an evil character in this conspiracy to cause the downfall of Budd. The captain was not convinced with Claggart’s accusation against Budd, and he demanded for substantial evidence. A meeting was staged where Claggart would directly confront Budd. During this meeting, the worst happened as Budd hit Claggart during the confrontation. Claggart died from the injury inflicted by Budd. This showcased an evil character of Budd as an individual who was aggressive and quick to anger. A jury was set to solve the murder case and Budd was put on trial. The captain and the crew were supporting Budd during the trial and the captain used his authority to secure a favorably lessened sentence for Budd. In the midst of the trial, Budd’s good character was evident. The captain and crew members recognized his good nature, and they supported him throughout the trial.
One of the most compelling elements in Bully Budd sailor emanates from Melville's preference of names for Budd’s initial vessel. This original vessel was called Rights of Man after a speech that was given by the famous Thomas Paine. The speech focused on upholding the rights of all individuals. The next vessel that Billy joined was called Bellipotent, which symbolizes a powerful nation in war. It also encourages a more tangible law code and the enforcement of the stipulated law code. It is evident that Budd’s switch from the Rights-of-man to the vessel Bellipotent illustrates a move from a society, which has a community governed by natural rights to a community reliant on laws. A society with laws is the best since individuals are punished when they commit felonies.
It is obvious that Melville has an interest in the methods employed by a community to limit individual capability. Captain’s predicament in dealing with Billy demonstrates how society needs the division of one’s innermost feelings from an individual’s social obligations. This is obvious during Budd’s trial as the captain pursues social obligations. Regardless of his own sense of guilt, Billy depicts kindness and blamelessness.
The captain felt the pressure in his capacity as a leader, because he had a responsibility to oversee that individuals obeyed the Mutiny Act. Pursuant to the act: “Any person who shall attempt to seduce any sailor or soldier from his duty or incite him to mutiny, &c. to suffer death” (UK.GOV 1). It is obvious that Vere forces himself to ignore the strict law and repercussions. Instead, a judgment should have been made after regarding the prevailing circumstances before the crime. “But the thing which in eminent instances signalizes so exceptional a nature is this: Though the man's even temper and discreet bearing would seem to intimate a mind peculiarly subject to the law of reason, not the less in heart he would seem to riot in complete exemption from that law, having apparently little to do with reason further than to employ it as an ambidexter implement for effecting the irrational” (Melville 30). Vere urges the judges in the case to do the same. This was a good act as he wanted the jury to arrive at favorable decision. Regulation, obviously governs individual conscience and society, as well. For an individual to fill a social responsibility effectively it is necessary to act in opposition to an individual’s own desires. The captain believes that to be an efficient captain, Vere must perform an act that he instinctually understands as morally incorrect, that is bringing charges on an innocent person. He decries his predicament: “Captain Vere was now again motionless, standing absorbed in thought. Again starting, he vehemently exclaimed, "Struck dead by an angel of God! Yet that angel must hang!”(Melville 20).
In this novel, the narrator highlights a discussion concerning the celebrated mutiny at Nore. It is clear that a majority of the members who participated in the mutiny eventually redeem themselves in the significant triumph at Trafalgar, where they chose to exhibit their true patriotism. On further analysis the novel, it is obvious that the urge of people is normally superior and valuable to the society as a whole. While the British war apparatus significantly benefits as a result of all the peoples keenness and loyalty of its sailors. It was evident that the commanding navy was capable to muffle egoism. In fact, the cruel legislation of the Mutiny Act is passed to hold back any additional murmurings of disagree. Melville in the novel seems to propose that, in the end, an individual’s challenge to assert oneself in the society may be pointless.
Another situation of uneasiness presents itself in form of mistrust. There is pure paranoia, because some evil men aboard the ship harbor malicious intentions. The regulations set in the ship guide all the individuals on board since they are a set of rules that all the individuals trust. Individuals do not follow their conscience they only follow the rules so as to maintain order. As an individual reads the book, he/she can link Claggart to the evil people in society. It is obvious that a majority of evil people are in the society. Although, they hide in their friendly facade. This situation enlightens individuals on the difficult task of identifying evil men in the society as their superficial appearance is not different from other men. A perfect example is the occasion where Claggart misinterprets Budd’s intentions during the soup spilling occasion. Thereafter, he begins to scheme Budd’s downfall.
The only individual who understands dishonesty is Dansker. As a result, he has acquired pessimism in his contact with other people in the community. The Dansker’s reserve may be explained in various forms, but one reasonable explanation is that he falls short to take direct action against all the evil men in the novel. It is obvious that he is not in a position to deal the consequences of tackling evil directly, thus leaving other innocent men, such as Billy, to fend for their life. Dansker represents individuals who have roles and responsibilities, so as to fit into the society those who never act on their impulses, because they detach themselves from the rest of the community. It is evident that Dansker performs good acts, which are almost similar to captain Vere when he tries to assist Budd when he advised him that Claggart was an evil man. In the end, he ended up sacrificing Budd to the paranoid world in the ship where men lacked disconnection with their consciences. Majority were evil and malicious. However, good will always triumphs over evil as it is evident in Budd’s favorable sentence. His opponents would not succeed in bringing him down.
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