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Billy Budd - Convictions Shaken

Uploaded by kb84ever on Feb 22, 2001

In Herman Melville’s Billy Budd, Sailor, readers are introduced to the conflict of good and evil between Billy Budd and Claggart. However, there is another conflict, which, in ways is more significant than the epic clash of good and evil. Vere’s struggle between duty and conscience is more significant because it occurs in the mind. Whereas Billy Budd was clearly the noble sacrificed hero and Claggart was the vindictive villain, duty is just as noble as conscience and conscience is just as noble as duty. Melville sets up this conflict by placing a man with the intuition and innocence of a child, in the hands of a captain amidst war. In a description of Captain Vere it can be anticipated that Vere, who values peace and common good, would be in conflict with his job, which requires him to be a militaristic authoritarian. Captain Vere learns important lessons when innocent hands bring about destruction of life. Vere was moved by his beckoning duty as captain, to convince the drumhead court to convict Billy Budd. However, the paternal emotions towards Billy Budd and his rational thinking did invoke indecision. Captain Vere realizes, when he has to act, he does not have the strength of conviction he had thought. Vere’s character is written to be a medium between Billy Budd and Claggart. Vere, like Claggart, has experience that makes him a salted sailor. However, like Billy Budd, Vere has been able to hold on to his natural intelligence. Along with his intelligence, Vere has an innocent quality to him: he believes when a crisis between duty and conscience calls, he will be able to hold fast to duty as called for on the seas during war. Captain Vere learns that in the face of conflict between duty and conscience, he does not have the strength of conviction he thought he had. Captain Vere learns that to balance conscience and duty is a very hard task even for a man as conscious of his actions as he is.

Captain Vere, despite having paternal feelings towards Billy Budd, soon realizes the decision facing him. After Claggart’s last breathe, “ ‘Fated boy,’ breathed Captain Vere in tone so low as to be almost a whisper, ‘what have you done!’ ” (350). Vere’s paternal feelings can be seen when he says “Fated boy”. The fact Captain Vere whispers this implies the emotions he is feeling. He...

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Uploaded by:   kb84ever

Date:   02/22/2001

Category:   Literature

Length:   9 pages (1,958 words)

Views:   1645

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