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Billy Budd facts include:
- An American novella
- Written by Herman Melville
- Was started in 1888, left unfinished by Melville's death in 1891, and first published in England in 1924.
- Today, Billy Budd is considered to be a masterpiece.
The plot of the story centers on Billy Budd, a young sailor pressed into service aboard the HMS Bellipotent in 1797. The setting of the story is significant, for the British navy, had just suffered through two major mutinies, which were not violent, but still threatening to the military chain of command.
Billy Budd and Claggart
Billy Budd is seemingly loved by everyone on board ship with the notable exception of the master-at-arms John Claggart. Claggart falsely accused Budd of mutiny and when the captain, Edward Fairfax Vere, summons the two of them to his cabin, Billy is unable to verbally defend himself, due to a stutter, instead striking out and killing Claggart.
This action puts Captain Vere in a moral dilemma. Striking and killing a superior officer is an offense punishable by death. However, it is clear that Billy was not guilty of mutiny, and that Claggart's death was justified. At Billy's court-martial, Captain Vere overrules the other officers and proceeds to condemn Billy to death by hanging in order to prevent any further mutiny in the British Navy. As he is led to his noose, Billy's last words are "God bless Captain Vere!" Readers are left to ponder the moral ambiguity of the decision made by the captain.