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An Analysis Of The Article Billy Budd And Capital Punishment: A Tale Of Three Centuries

1645 words - 7 pages

H. Bruce Franklin of “Billy Budd and Capital Punishment: A Tale of Three Centuries” investigates the underlying controversial feud that represents the issue of the story, and details the debates surrounding the “profound influence on American culture” (1-18).
Capital Punishment is a controversial debate that has been justified and condemned for over a century. When interpreting Billy Budd, there are two general ways to judge the novel, either by admiration or by condemning the story. Both judgments are complete opposites and are entirely hostile toward one another, a way of exemplifying the groups for and against the issue of capital punishment. The article, “Billy Budd and Capital ...view middle of the document...

This issue in the story is the portrayal of the unjust display of capital punishment that was wrongfully sentenced. Franklin emphasizes that in order to understand this issue in Billy Budd, the reader would have to obtain knowledge of the debates occurring in New York. These debates dealt with the consequence of capital punishment and the offenses committed that would deserve this sentence, one of the offenses being the clear intention to kill another, an offense Budd did not commit, as justified by the group whom condemns Vere’s decision. It is here where the controversy is presented with Billy Budd, and where the opposing groups form to either justify Vere’s decision to persecute Budd, for he clearly killed Claggart and an example needed to be presented to the other sailors that consequences would be enforced if an offense occurred, or condemn Vere for his decision, for Budd killed a man superior in his standing, but did so unintentionally. This is the critical issue presented in Billy Budd, and Melville’s portrayal of capital punishment as a whole, for the controversy in the story exemplifies the greater issues of not only the debates in New York, but the worldwide struggle to either justify or condemn the practice of capital punishment.
Since the “Bloody Code”, a period of time when execution was common, was disliked in both England and America, participants in both opposing groups agreed that eliminating most of the codes capital offenses would be a notable achievement in society (3). Opponents of the death penalty referred of the “Georgian Code” as barbaric and repulsive, as well as “a scandal to the rest of the civilized world” (3). Advocates of capital punishment celebrated the progress digressing away from the Bloody Code, especially since England reduced capital offenses to “three class” of murder, none including circumstances of excitement, sudden passion, or provocation (3). However, articles favoring capital punishment argued that executions should be sentenced when intended murder has taken place by the same person who either resisted arrest or was charged with another crime. Since Budd didn’t necessarily kill Claggart with intent, he still killed a man “superior in grade” while Vere instructs the court that they must dismiss the concept of his intent because nevertheless, he struck a man in a higher position than himself [Budd]. As a consequence for his offense, Budd then receives the sentencing of public execution by hanging, a form of capital punishment repulsed by groups but praised by the opposing party. However, current debates in New York were progressing and as a result, the practice of capital punishment was diminishing slowly, with multiple states reducing the consequences deserved for a punishable felony. Furthermore, punishments for committing an offense were becoming racially unjust, such as in 1848 when Virginia passed a statue requiring the death penalty for blacks be punishable by three or more years than if...

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