Billy Budd Essay

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In the essay below, Reich provides a detailed look at justice as portrayed in Billy Budd, arguing that human law must address a man's actions as seen objectively within his situation.

To read Billy Budd is to feel an intense and indelible sense of helplessness and agony. A youthful sailor, loved by his shipmates for his natural goodness, is put to death for the sake of seemingly formalistic, insensate law. In this final work of Melville's, law and society are portrayed in fundamental opposition to natural man.

The confrontation takes place in a stark and somber shipboard drama. Billy, the Handsome Sailor, is falsely and maliciously accused of mutiny by Claggart, the master-at-arms. Momentarily losing the power of speech while trying to answer, Billy strikes out at Claggart, and the blow kills. Captain Vere, who witnesses the act and must judge it, is caught in a "moral dilemma...

(read more from the Critical Essay #3 section)

This section contains 3,764 words
(approx. 10 pages at 400 words per page)
Buy the Billy Budd Study Guide
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Billy Budd from Novels for Students. ©2005-2006 Thomson Gale, a part of the Thomson Corporation. All rights reserved.
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