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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, Vere reminded himself he was under the oath of the King, not human inclinations. If Vere had not done this Billy might have lived. This was not, however, the real reason for changing his mind. The real reason was because others would have followed in Billy’s alleged footsteps if he were not punished.
Billy Budd’s life was sacrificed for an unjust reason, and the circumstances surrounding his death were definitely questionable. However, Vere made the right decision to hang him. The consequences of what might have happened if his life had been spared were far greater that those of grief for his death. Billy’s death was truly necessary for things to remain in order on the ship, especially without crew members entertaining the idea of killing another or starting a mutiny. The hanging of Billy Budd shows the need for punishment to occur for justice to prevail, regardless of the circumstances surrounding the issue.

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, Vere reminded himself he was under the oath of the King, not human inclinations. If Vere had not done this Billy might have lived. This was not, however, the real reason for changing his mind. The real reason was because others would have followed in Billy’s alleged footsteps if he were not punished.
Billy Budd’s life was sacrificed for an unjust reason, and the circumstances surrounding his death were definitely questionable. However, Vere made the right decision to hang him. The consequences of what might have happened if his life had been spared were far greater that those of grief for his death. Billy’s death was truly necessary for things to remain in order on the ship, especially without crew members entertaining the idea of killing another or starting a mutiny. The hanging of Billy Budd shows the need for punishment to occur for justice to prevail, regardless of the circumstances surrounding the issue.


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