Billy Budd, Sailor
Herman Melville’s Billy Budd, Sailor is evidently an extremely divisive text when one considers the amount of dissension and disagreement it has generated critically. The criticism has essentially focused around what could be called the dichotomy of acceptance vs. resistance. On the one hand we can read the story as accepting the slaughter of Billy Budd as the necessary ends of justice. We can read Vere’s condemnation as a necessary military action performed in the name of preserving the political order on board the Bellipotent. On the other hand, we can read the story ironically as a Melvillian doctrine of resistance. Supporters on this pole of the debate argue that Billy Budd’s execution is the greatest example of injustice. They argue that the execution is a testament of denunciation, deploring the shallow political order of a paranoid military regime. I do not wish to argue either side of this debate. I have pointed it out to illustrate that Billy Budd, Sailor is a text about principles of right conduct, or at least this view is held by critics. Is Vere’s conduct right or wrong? This is the basic question at stake. In this sense it is a text about moral values and ethical conduct. However, considering that Billy Budd,
Billy"tms crime has upset the law, order and authority of his community on board the Bellipotent. The punishment inflicted by others (the injured ones) is nothing to the cause. Essentially, injury can be remunerated by pain. The notion of compensation for injury by inflicting pain is what is essential for discovering what happens to guilt in the text. There were legal evaluations as to the specific value of various body parts which could be removed by the creditor as compensation. Punishment generally makes people hard and indifferent. To read the story as either accepting or resisting an ethical dilemma is perhaps a moot point. " Captain Vere is the creditor and Billy Budd is the debtor. According to Nietzsche, "the major moral concept Schuld guilt has its origin in the very material concept Schulden debts. Billy obviously kills Claggart and Vere (Although it is indirect, ultimately the decision is his) kills Budd. It is the punishment that precludes the expression of guilt and remorse in Billy Budd, Sailor. In the act of punishing, the punisher (creditor) is placed in a position of power over the punishee (debtor). But he foully lied to my face and in presence of my captain, and I had to say something, and I could only say it with a blow, God help me!" This statement illustrates Billy"tms emotional reaction to his crime. We punish to make sure that the feeling of guilt is felt in the guilty person. This is essentially how punishment works in human culture, and how it works in Billy Budd, Sailor.
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