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The Hanging of Billy Budd

The hanging of Billy in Melville’s Billy Budd was a questionable and complex decision made by Captain Vere. Captain Vere, or “starry Vere,” chose to coincide with the law rather than spare Billy to make himself happy. The hanging of Billy was necessary for order to remain on the ship and for justice to prevail.
Billy Budd, also known as the “handsome sailor,” was on trial for killing the master-at-arms, Claggart. Everyone wished for Billy’s life to be spared, but Captain Vere chose to follow the oath he pledged to the King. Consequently, Billy was given the death penalty and hanged. Everyone on the ship enjoyed Billy’s presence, except Claggart. He was described to be a “sweet, pleasant fellow” (pg. 5). Vere liked Billy as much as the others, “…they all loved him!” (pg. 6) Because of this, he wondered what the best choice
was: save Billy, or hang him. The decision to hang Billy was, in retrospect, the right one. If Captain Vere chose not to hang Billy, no one would have learned from his/her mistakes-including Billy himself. Lack of punishment can lead to severe problems; today, for example, the actions of Bill Clinton are comprable to what might have happened if Billy would not have been hanged. This is because society tends to follow the examples others set for them.
Because Billy was so well liked by everyone, Captain Vere was in a very difficult situation. It was very unlike Billy to ever do something so rash; he brought out the best in everyone. ‘A virtue went out of him, sugaring the sour ones” (pg. 5). Captain Vere felt in his heart that Billy’s actions were a mistake, but he could not be sure. The accusation Claggart made was mutiny, and mutiny was a serious crime. Vere had no proof that Billy was not guilty, so for the safety of himself and his crew, he sacrificed Billy’s life. In his decision making, V...

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