Melville and the Social Injustices of His Day

The story foresees the consequences of unbridled

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The story foresees the consequences of unbridled militarism and imperialism, which ignores the rules of man not only in colonized lands, but also among the people forced to do the fighting and the colonizing. By going into the past to explore the consequences of the triumph of militarism and imperialism in England, it foreshadows the future, with the consequences of the triumph of militarism and imperialism in America. The story shows how a country can often be blinded by current events and not see the consequences of its actions. Wendell Glick talks about the repercussions of Vere's decision: Having decided upon the absolute necessity for maintaining unweakened the strength of the social fabric, Melville shudders when he contemplates the price exacted in terms of human values; and Billy Budd became the balance-sheet upon which he reckoned the price men have to pay for the ordered society which they have to have. The most obvious price was the destruction of "Nature's Nobleman," the superlatively innocent person: every Billy Budd impressed by an Indomitable is forced to leave his Rights-of-Man behind. To the destruction of innocent persons, moreover, it was necessary to add the mental suffering of the individual forced to make moral judgements. (107) The author is saying that Vere decided to sacrifice the good of humankind for the good of the military. Vere believes that the Naval Code is more important than the concepts of right and wrong. The names of the ships that Billy serves on are both allegories. The Indomitable is an allegory for something that is huge and awe inspiring. The Rights-of-Man symbolizes the smaller, more moral decision people often forget about. Billy journeys from ship to ship. The machinery of the Royal Navy traps Billy; he becomes a cog rather than a thinking human being. When Billy places his faith completely in the royal Navy his fate is sealed. No one must agree with everything that the country does. There should always be philosophical debate about current events. The leaders of a country will do whatever they want unless the common people watch out for their rights. Franklin writes, " Vere's action, and his entire argument to his drumhead court, is based on a fear of an imminent mutiny. But we the readers of this 'inside narrative' never see the faintest hint of any such possibility. Discipline is only breached after Billy's execution" (204-205). Much like the character of Captain Queeg in Herman Wouk's The Caine Mutiny, Vere's rigid adherence to the letter of the Naval Code as he sees it is what ultimately leads to what he most fears: a mutiny. His very reliance on the rules dooms him. After Claggart accuses Billy of attempted mutiny, Vere decides to confront the two men with each other in his cabin. There Billy, angered by the charge, confused and frustrated by his stammer, kills Claggart. Apparently Vere's purpose in bringing them together is to find out the truth. This plan does not make sense. Claggart would have accused, and Billy would have denied.
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