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Billy Budd

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Billy Budd is a short story written by an American author, Herman Melville. The version that I read is published by Harvard University Press. The story begins with the event of the impressments of sailors to join the British naval warship, H.M.S. Bellipotent. The main character, Billy Budd, is one of the sailors who have been impressed to join the royal warship. Although being young and inexperienced, Billy Budd is highly esteemed by his commanding officer, Captain Gravelling, who is reluctant to let Billy Budd go. However, without any protest, Billy obeys the command and serves as royal sailor in that naval warship. In that warship, Billy serves quite well and most of his fellow sailors like him very much, except for the Master-at-arms, John Claggart, and his subordinate, Squeak, who despise Billy so much that they create evil plans to harm Billy. Claggart despises Billy because he envies Billy for his noble spirit. It is noted in the story that Claggart's nature is evil, it is said that he is naturally depraved, as opposed to Billy who is still innocent and unable to perceive evil motives of others. Even though Dansker, a senior sailor, already told Billy that Claggart hated him, Billy still thinks that Claggart is in favor of him, however. This condition thus creates a one-sided enmity.

One day, Claggart approaches the captain of the H.M.S. Bellipotent, Edward Fairfax Vere, with news of a potential mutiny in the warship and Billy is the leader of this act of rebellion. Captain Vere demands any evidence for this news from Claggart. Captain Vere therefore summons Billy Budd for an interview with himself and Claggart. During the interview, Billy can not defend himself toward this false accusation. Billy stutters and hitting Claggart is the only answer that he is able to give. Claggart dies because of the hit, and Billy has to be hanged under to Mutiny Act. Even though Billy is innocent morally because he never intended to rebel and to kill Claggart, he still has to die in order to discourage any potential mutiny in the warship. In the end, Billy respects the decision proposed by Captain Vere that he has to die and the moment just before he dies, he shouts "God Bless Captain Vere!" As we read the book, we know that the dilemmas represented in this story Billy Budd results from the superiority of law over morality, or human right and consciousness to be specific.

The superiority of law over morality can be seen from the very beginning of the story, and it results in harmful consequences. The British passed a law to involuntary recruit sailors to help the British Navy in the war effort against France, happening at that time. Knowing from the story that Claggart was recruited from jail, it seems that the British was in dire need of sailors. The impressments were done in hurry without concerning much about the rights of sailors as individual. As we can see from the saying of Captain Gravelling, who was reluctant to let Billy go, "Ay, Lieutenant, you are going to take away the jewel of Ð''em; you are going to take away my peacemaker!" (Melville 138). The government recruited the sailors by force instead of explaining the importance of defending the country to the recruits. In addition, the government did not treat the sailors well after they have been recruited. In other words, the government violates the right

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