Please be familiar with BILLY BUDD by Manville. The attached file was my response to the story. Below is a follow up to that response. Please answer the BOLD question at the end of the response.

One factor that is different in Billy Budd—and something that I’ve been pondering for some time—is that Billy’s execution is not the only injustice to which he is subjected. After all, Billy did not volunteer to work aboard the Bellipotent; he was “impressed,” that is, kidnapped and essentially enslaved.* (There were differences between British impressment and American-style chattel slavery, but impressment was nonetheless a kind of slavery. Billy was not free to leave; if he did not obey, or if he did not work, he could be whipped; etc.)

So before Billy ever runs afoul of Claggart he has already been the victim of injustice. I think this matters because while, yes, justice is one of the themes of the novel, we cannot limit our discussion of that theme to just the trial under Captain Vere. Even if Vere had done the “right” and “just” thing and acquitted Billy (if that in fact were the right thing), that would do nothing more than return Billy to his condition of impressment/enslavement.

The question of the injustice of the trial is wrapped up inside the larger question of the injustice of the entire British system.

All this is further complicated by the fact that Melville is an American writer, and Americans were extremely critical of the British practice of impressment. (This was not least because sometimes the British would impress American sailors, which for obvious reasons made this country extremely angry. There was also the fact that impressment was a blatant violation of basic rights.)

So it’s not as if we can say that Billy’s impressment is a minor or merely incidental aspect of the story; to Melville and his American readers it would have been quite important.

So, what difference do you think all this makes? How does your understanding of the story, of Billy, of Vere, etc. change if you focus on the basic injustice of Billy’s impressment?

* For more info on impressment, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impressment.