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Three Sequels – Three Perspectives on the Story of Billy Budd

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Each of the three sequels adds to the story in its own way. They shed a backdrop of light on the decisions of Vere and his guilt that follows him. They also portray the political decisions of Vere and the newspaper writers later who cover the story. Finally, they give the sailors a voice, ironically in their pursuit of silence after the murder. The three sequels give three new perspectives on what happened and how it should be dealt with.

“…this emphasized silence was gradually disturbed by a sound not easily to be verbally rendered.” The first sequel, occurring directly after Billy’s hanging, deals mostly with the immediate response to Billy’s death. The sailors try their best to maintain a silence in respect for Billy, but the sounds of the ship essentially render their effort futile. This demonstrates that they are truly sad to see Billy die, but the fact that they are sailors on a warship does not allow the to demonstrate their emotions. In the next moment, the leader’s whistles call men to continue work as normal, ending the possible emotions that they felt in the moment. When the men then lay Billy to rest a little while later, they begin to speak amongst themselves about presumably the hanging and if Billy’s death was justified. This new perspective shows Melville’s intentions that the sailors opinions don’t always match the authoritative opinions.

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“Not long before death … [Vere] was heard to murmur words inexplicable to his attendant: ‘Billy Budd, Billy Budd’.” The second sequel acts primarily as out outlook on Vere’s response to his decision after the fact. Without this sequel, we would never quite know that Vere had the guilt of Billy’s death on his conscious literally until he died. Vere, although seeming relatively guilt free when he attempts to sway the other adjudicators, is iremensibly stunned when Billy shouts out his name in death. It is at this moment that Vere is stuck with the guilt of his terrible decision, and when he gains a sense of morals. Unfortunately, seconds afterward, Billy receives his punishment, and Vere is endowed with regret. This chapter also adds justice for Billy, as the primary factor for his death was killed by the very thing he was trying to protect: law and justice in wartime.

The final sequel is essentially a report of a newspaper on the incident, and is therefore the message that other ships and bases will receive as what happened. In this newspaper, Claggart is, apparently, “vindictively stabbed to the heart by the suddenly drawn sheath knife of Budd. This entire chapter essentially demonstrates how propaganda can ensue during martial law, especially in the circumstance where mutinies have occurred frequently. As Melville writes, this is the only historical record of the event, meaning that the plot to cover up the true story was successful and that Billy’s memory will forever be clouded by a lie devised to keep the military fighting. Assuming Vere had a large part in this decision, then this reflects upon Vere’s attitude by essentially stating that a misinformed army would be better than one informed, when the knowledge can lead to disruption in an otherwise orderly society under wartime law. Vere, again, puts the law and order decisions of a captain above the morally responsible actions of a leader of men.

In the end, this is a story of how war and martial law can influence political and moral decisions. Melville, therefore, gives the last words to the military newspaper writer, who tells of Billy’s death as the necessary outcome to a poor decision. This reflects on the story as a whole, where the government can make decisions on what is right and wrong during such a time, to the point of being able to cover up the story that may lead to any doubt in their system


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