Melville and the Social Injustices of His Day

84 veres fear of losing control shapes his actions

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officers, and lastly, guilty of that worst of naval sins, over-prudence. (84) Vere's fear of losing control shapes his actions throughout the book. Vere shows that he would rather sacrifice innocence than give up control. Franklin questions, "There is only one ambiguity about Vere: is he sane or mad? Insofar as the story focuses on Vere, it is the study of an apparently rational, humane man who can argue with learning, calm, and some plausibility that the most ethical course of action is to kill the most innocent and beloved person in your world to preserve the military law and order necessary for monarchy and empire" (207). Melville shows throughout the book that Vere is a careful man and that he is well read, well mannered, and basically a gentleman. Yet, slowly through the course of the story we see that sanity is a façade; twisted into Vere's thought patterns are the Naval Code--that archaic code that prizes obedience over all else. The very crew he is worried about mutinying is the same that holds Billy in such high regard. None except Claggart, whom he kills, had ever said anything unbecoming about Billy Budd. So by his actions, the "gentle" captain shows himself to be quite insane. This was obviously what Melville thought. He had always prized the heart over the head. Captain Vere is of two minds throughout the story. His evil side is represented by the spectre of war in his communications with Claggart, and Billy represents his good side. Good and evil are always two sides of the same coin. Melville uses poetic concepts to illustrate humankind's values and morals. It is a tragedy that in the end Vere upholds Claggart's ideals and ignores Billy's values (Schiffman 53). Vere attempts to be portrayed as a just and moral man. But when it is not the easy way out, he chooses his duty over his heart. Melville's prevailing style throughout his life was one of allegory and satire. He eschewed the straight narratives of many of his contemporaries. Yet Billy Budd shows a change in style. His weapon for his final attack on the social injustices of the time is his use of irony. In all other respects it is similar to his earlier works. It is a sea story, which was Melville's favorite genre. It is rich in historical detail and dealt with the "everyman." There is no upper class portrayed in his book, although the irony often lands in that same group. In Billy Budd his barbed comments often find their mark. Melville often relates the common man to that of a savage and that of M
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