Billy Bud: A Captain's Duty

Length: 4 Pages 919 Words

In the novel, Billy Budd, Herman Melville searches for answers to moral dilemmas. The reader is compelled to contemplate the battle between good and evil and the controversy over how a person can separate them. A person relies on their knowledge of right and wrong to make the most responsible decision. Society has created legal standards that define right and wrong. A decision’s propriety is often based upon the outcome of the situation. Melville did not write the outcome as if Vere had chosen to spare Billy Budd but did provide an insight into what might have happened if Billy Bud was spared. Captain Vere’s speech to the drum-head court explains his reasoning for his decision. In Melville’s novel, Billy Budd, Captain Vere’s ultimate decision was morally, legally, and politically responsible. There are some issues that do not have a simple answer. However, society has been able to define some behavior as morally wrong. In society there is a talk of the "greater good". Even though there are many differing religions, society has been able to take religious and moral principles and apply them to laws. Murder is an action that society regards as intolerable. Even though Billy Budd had no intentions of killing Cla Continue...


Vere explains to the three individuals of the drum-head court why the punishment must fit the conviction. In the army the laws are strictly followed and enforced without bias. The lives of his crew depended on his decisions and no act of mutiny could be tolerated. Captain Vere's final judgment was his political duty, as a captain; his obligation, as an upright member of society; and his imperative allegiance, as an officer of the law. Without punishment, laws cannot be effective. If one man was not punished for his crime the others would think that they could also commit crimes without consequence. Captain Vere was a fair man and knew special pardons could not be made for any sailor. Laws are enforced by those in authority. If Billy Budd was not punished according to the crime, mutiny could have started. Lieutenant, were that alleviating the penalty clearly lawful for us under the circumstances consider the consequences of such clemency. Apart from its effect the blow itself is, according to the Articles of War, a capital crime. He had a responsibility to maintain peace in a time of war and to do his job to the best of his ability.