Melville and the Social Injustices of His Day

The author is saying that vere decided to sacrifice

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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. Vere's decision is a result of his fear of mutiny. Vere calls a court martial. During the trial the members of the court seem
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reluctant to hang Billy, and the Captain has to talk them into it. But it is hard to understand why Vere calls the court at all. What purpose does it serve? Is it called to guide him to a right decision? But Vere has already made his decision. In any case the court does not guide him; he guides the court. Perhaps he thinks the court will overrule him and release Billy. But Vere has reserved for himself the right of supervising the proceedings. Obviously all Vere wanted is to have on record a trial agreeing with his decision. Withim talks about the psyche of Captain Vere: Stripped of verbiage, Vere is saying that men cannot think for themselves, that form and habit can control men as if they were no more than beasts. Vere, in an earlier passage, had thought to himself that Billy was a "'Kings Bargain,' that is to say, His Britannic Majesty's navy a capital investment at small outlay or none at all". In this light, Vere, far from being a wise man, balanced in his judgements and fair in his attitudes, is discovered to be narrow, literal, prejudiced, completely circumscribed by the needs of the navy, less compassionate than his officers, and lastly, guilty of that worst of naval sins, over-prudence. (84)
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