From the case of Billy Budd, one must ponder about several important questions in regards to the power of the law and the extent to which it should be recognized. “Although Billy Budd killed Claggart unintentionally, he was aware that striking a superior officer was a serious offense, however, Claggart had provoked him by accusing him of organizing a mutiny” (Hunte). Thus, Billy Budd is described as the following, “His simple nature remained unsophisticated by those moral obliquities which are not in every case incompatible with that manufacturable thing known as respectability” (Melville). Perhaps Melville is emphasizing the point that Billy is some sort of special moral being, completely incapable of conceiving evil and bearing malice. Perchance, the case of Billy Budd should not be manipulated to fit the law; rather the law should be made to fit the case. In society, laws are made to serve justice and to protect individuals.
Each case has unique circumstances and no one case is the same. Therefore, in order for justice to be served, the laws should be interpreted differently in each case. Captain Vere has illustrated his realization that this case has special circumstances, stating that “This case is an exceptional one” (Melville). Everyone on the Bellipotent knows Billy for his kindness; Billy even has attempted to befriend Claggart. By sentencing Billy to death, the Drumhead Court would eliminate a kind-spirited and hard-working man from the ship. Billy’s good heart and benevolent nature show that he is not likely to kill another man in the future, and killing him won’t protect any individuals. Since a law is made for serving justice and protecting people, and sentencing Billy to death does neither. Furthermore, there are many things that make this case unique, and that need to be taken into consideration when devising Billy’s punishment.
When considering this case, one must recognize that Billy Budd is crippled. It is true that he is not noticeably mentally or physically handicapped, but he does have a disability. In a situation where any other person would be able to speak up for himself, Billy was unable to. He has a condition that prevents him from verbalizing his thoughts when he feels very strongly about a certain topic or situation, which causes him to stutter. When Claggart accused Billy of conspiring with his fellow sailors, Billy could not verbally defend himself. As a result, he defended himself in the only way that he could, by striking Claggart across the head, causing his death. Because of his inability to protect his honor with words, Billy’s use of physical force was somewhat justified.
Because every case is unique, and laws are made to properly serve justice leaving those responsible with clear consciences, they should not be made so strict that they do not allow for manipulation and mitigation depending on the situation at hand. Billy Budd’s case is unique for many reasons, including his own disability, and Billy’s lack of malicious intent. Through the eyes of an individual, Bill Budd can perhaps be viewed as innocent. Can one not support Bill’s actions of self defense? In order for justice be made, the case should shape the law and not the law mold the case as it happened in Billy Budd.
“Billy Budd Morality and Ethics Quotes Page 1.” shmoop. N.p., n.d. Web. 8 Feb. 2013. <http://www.shmoop.com/billy-budd/morality-ethics-quotes.html>.
Erudite , Mann. “Literature Criticism.”Literary Works. N.p., n.d. Web. 8 Feb. 2013. <http://www.mannmuseum.com/essay-serving-justice-in-the-case-of-billy-budd/>
Hunte, Richard. “West Port Wolf Pack .”World Literature. N.p., n.d. Web. 7 Feb. 2013. <www.marion.k12.fl.us/schools/wph/teacher
Melville, Herman. Billy Budd. Raleigh, N.C.: Alex Catalogue, 199. Print.
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