by Herman Melville
Billy Budd Truth Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Paragraph)
[Captain Vere:] "War looks but to the frontage, the appearance. And the Mutiny Act, War's child, takes after the father. Budd's intent or non-intent is nothing to the purpose." (21.35)
Vere's argument here is that the law is concerned with what happened. It is not concerned with intentions. Is this true? Doesn't the law try to assign guilt or innocence? Is it just assigning guilt or innocence in actions? Can it help but get entangled in people's intentions?
Says a writer whom few know, "Forty years after a battle it is easy for a noncombatant to reason about how it ought to have been fought. It is another thing personally and under fire to have to direct the fighting while involved in the obscuring smoke of it." (21.41)
The narrator offers this quote in defense of Vere's actions. Does the quote suggest that reasoning cannot actually get to the truth of an event? Is the "obscuring smoke" really "obscuring" or is it just a series of complicated circumstances that have to be taken into account in order to make a decision?
Stooping over, he kissed on the fair cheek his fellow man, a felon in martial law, one whom though on the confines of death he felt he could never convert to a dogma; nor for all that did he fear for his future. (24.8)
Why doesn't the chaplain fear for Billy's future? If he himself is dedicated to teaching dogma and trying to convert others to it, why is he satisfied even though Billy won't convert? Does the chaplain perceive some truth even deeper than dogma in Billy's attitude?