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Free Billy Budd Essays: Justice in Billy Budd

Billy Budd – Not about Divine Justice and Human Justice

Some have misinterpreted Melville’s Billy Budd as a story about the distinction between divine justice, on the one hand, and human justice, on the other. Here’s a summary of the “incorrect” reading that leads to this conclusion: When John Claggart falsely accuses Billy Budd of inciting mutiny, Captain Vere (whose name suggests “truth”) arranges a confrontation between the accuser and the accused. When Claggart shamelessly repeats the lie to Budd’s face and when Captain Vere insists that Budd defend himself and when Budd is struck speechless (if you like) and, therefore, STRIKES Claggart who falls down dead, Captain Vere suddenly has a problem on his hands, a problem he did not bargain for. You see, he feels that Budd is innocent but he also knows that he has killed a superior officer, an offense punishable by death. Here’s how Melville presents Captain Vere’s argument at the drumhead court:

“How can we adjudge to summary and shameful death a fellow creature innocent before God, and whom we feel to be so? – Does that state it aright? You sign sad assent. Well, I too feel that, the full force of that. It is Nature. But do these buttons that we wear attest that our allegiance is to Nature? No, to the King. Though the ocean, which is inviolate Nature primeval, though this be the element where we move and have our being as sailors, yet as the King’s officers lies our duty in a sphere correspondingly natural? So little is that true that, in receiving our commissions, we in the most important regards ceased to be natural free agents. When war is declared are we, the commissioned fighters, previously consulted? We fight at command. If our judgments approve the war, that is but coincidence. So in other particulars. For suppose condemnation to follow these present proceedings. Would it be so much we ourselves that would condemn as it would be martial law operating through us? For that law and the rigor of it, we are not responsible. Our vowed responsibility is this: That however pitilessly that law may operate, we nevertheless adhere to it and administer it. . . .

“To steady us a bit, let us recur to the facts. – In war-time at sea a man-of-war’s man strikes his superior in grade, and the blow kills.

Romanticism’s Sublime Style in Rip Van Winkle, Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Billy Budd

Romanticism’s Sublime Style in Rip Van Winkle, Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Billy Budd

“Sublime refers to an aesthetic value in which the primary factor is the presence or suggestion of transcendent vastness or greatness, as of power, heroism, extent in space or time”(Internet Encyclopedia). This essay will explore different levels of Romanticism’s sublime style in Washington Irving’s Rip Van Winkle, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Herman Melville’s Billy Budd. The essay will particularly focus on how the writers incorporate the spiritual and the terror aspects of the sublime into their work.

American romanticism requires the wilds of nature to be the setting for the sublime. It is in this setting that the protagonist senses a conflict of good and evil. Even though the beautiful surroundings would suggests a pure serenity, the shadows in the beautiful setting reminds one that there is a dark side to nature. In each story there is an antagonist lurking about requiring the protagonist to choose his thinking – and ultimately his destiny. The antagonist in Billy Budd is Claggart, in The Legend of Sleepy Hallow, Brom Bones, and in Rip Van Winkle it could be a toss up between his nagging wife or the “company of odd-looking personages” he meets in the mountains.

Essentially it is Longinus, a first century philosopher, who is first credited with introducing the idea of the sublime into the arts (Weiskel 8). Longinus suggests five sources of sublimity in literature: “(1) the ability to conceive great thoughts, (2) intense emotion, (3) powerful figures of speech, (4) the choice of noble words, and (5) harmonious composition of sentences” (Kennedy, vol. 12). Each of Longinus? foundational sources for sublimity suggests an…

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…n Boulton 40).

Works Cited

Boulton, J. T. Burke?s Enquiry Into The Sublime And The Beautiful. New York: Columbia University, 1958.

The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 1997. University of Tennessee at Martin. 4 April 2001.

Kennedy, George. “Longinus.” The World Book Encyclopedia. 1985. Vol. 12:399.

Melville, Herman. “Billy Budd.” Ed. Paul Lauther. The Heath Anthology of

American Literature. New York: Houghton 1998. 2512-2570.

Washington, Irving. “The Legend of Sleep Hallow.” Ed. Paul Lauther. The Heath Anthology of American Literature. New York: Houghton 1998. 1354-1373.

——– “Rip Van Winkle.” Ed. Paul Lauther. The Heath Anthology of

American Literature. New York: Houghton 1998. 1342-1354.

Weiskel, Thomas. Romantic Sublime. Baltimore: John Hopkins University, 1976.

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