The hanging of Billy Budd in Melville’s novel was a complex decision made by Captain Vere. Vere chose to follow the law rather than spare Billy to make himself happy. The hanging was necessary for order to remain on the ship and for justice to prevail. Billy Budd, also known as the handsome sailor, was on trial for killing the master-at-arms, Claggart.
Everyone wished for Billy’s life to be spared, but Captain Vere chose to follow the oath he pledged to the King. Consequently, Billy was given the death penalty and hanged. Billy Budd’s death was presided over very questionable circumstances. Although he was liked by everyone, he was accused of mutiny aboard ship and the murder of the Master-at-Arms Claggert. His death was looked at as a tragedy by all aboard ship, even Captain Vere, who made the decision to hang Billy. But it was the only decision that could have been made to keep the ship and the crew from rebelling and killing all those people of higher command. Everyone on the ship enjoyed Billy’s presence, except Claggart. He was described as a sweet, pleasant fellow (pg.).
Captain Vere liked Billy as much as or more than the others. They all loved him (pg. 6). Because of this, he wondered what the best choice was: to save Billy or to hang him. The decision to hang Billy was, in retrospect, the right one. If Captain Vere chose not to hang Billy, no one would have learned from his mistakes, including Billy himself.
Lack of punishment can lead to severe problems. Billy was well-liked by everyone, and Captain Vere was in a difficult situation. It was unlike Billy to do something rash; he brought out the best in everyone. Captain Vere felt in his heart that Billy’s actions were a mistake, but he could not be sure. The accusation Claggart made was mutiny, and mutiny was a serious crime. Vere had no proof that Billy was not guilty, so for the safety of himself and his crew, he sacrificed Billy’s life.
In his decision making, Vere reminded himself that he was under the oath of the King, not his human inclinations. If Vere had not done this, Billy might have lived. However, the real reason for changing his mind was that others would have followed in Billy’s alleged footsteps if he were not punished.
Billy Budd’s life was sacrificed for an unjust reason, and the circumstances surrounding his death were questionable. However, Vere made the decision that he had to, although it wasn’t morally right. For Captain Vere, it was the only fair decision he could have made to hang him. The consequences of sparing his life could have been far greater than the grief for Billy’s death. Billy’s death was necessary for things to remain in order on the ship, especially without crew members entertaining the idea of killing another or starting a mutiny. The hanging of Billy Budd shows the need for punishment to occur for justice to prevail, regardless of the circumstances.
Billy Budd’s life was lost because Claggert did not like him. His accusations of Billy committing mutiny were too much for Billy to withstand. His inopportune time to lose his temper cost him his life. He was falsely accused of all accusations, but when he struck Claggert over the head and killed him, he wrote his own death. His actions of mutiny could not be proven, but when he struck Claggert and killed him, his actions were proven and could no longer be ignored.
No one liked Claggert, and he forced Billy into his aggressive actions. He never would have struck Claggert if he had not lied about Billy and the accusation of mutiny. Claggert was jealous of Billy and wanted him killed. He got his wish, but he also got what was coming to him when Billy killed him.