The world in which we live in now is much less oppressive than say the world lived in the middle of the 1800s.
Up until the Civil War, the South depended on their peculiar institution of slavery, in order to be productive a successful. Most people believed slavery was not wrong, but those who thought otherwise seldom tried to alter it. In general if surrounded by oppressive environment, one does not usually try to make a difference in that world. This is because people are afraid to defend what is right against a whole mass of people who believe otherwise. Huck Finn in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Billy Budd in Billy Budd, and Frederick Douglass in his autobiography all portray individuals who because of their good, innocent qualities go up against the oppression in their society. Living in an oppressive society does not always draw you to do the wrong thing you are still capable of generating change, whether it be for a certain individual or against a whole mass of people. Billy Budd starts off on the ship the Rights of Man, Melville obviously showing his intent in the naming of the first ship.
This shows that on this ship where Billy wanted to be and chose to be he had rights. That he and the other crew had choices of what to do and how to be. Then along comes the British navy and decides that they are going to take Billy aboard their ship Power of War. This is when Billy is brought into an oppressive society. This is the navy and wartime during which rules must be followed as well as a lifestyle that must be followed.
Billy is a poor innocent boy with a childish stutter. This stutter shows Billys humane side, a flaw, as well as leading you to the thinking that he has the innocence of a child. This stutter is connected to innocence because of its childish qualities. When most children begin speaking they have some sort of stutter, which usually goes away. The stutter parallels innocence because it is showing that you are just learning how to talk and dont really comprehend the correct way to make sounds, as you grow older you learn and the stutter disappears. Like innocence you are born with it, but as you grow older you usually are not portrayed as innocent any longer. Billy is like the premature kid who still has both his stutter and his innocence. Billy is introduced to many people aboard his new ship and is confronted by John Claggart.
In this movie Claggart is the one who Billy must actually go up against. Being in an oppressive society and Claggart being the master Billy is forced to listen to Claggart. Although he tries to avoid him he is nevertheless confronted by him. Claggart and Billy are totally opposite in character. Claggart is an evil man who is out to get Billy whereas Billy is a sweet innocent young man who tries to help others. It is these two opposite traits that eventually lead to the death of both of these men.
Billy tries to avoid Claggart because he has heard of his evil and does not want to deal with it. It is until he hears of Claggarts accusations that he is involved in a mutiny that he confronts him leading to the deathblow, which Billy delivers to Claggart. Captain Vere now holds a court to determine Billys consequences. Captain Vere is torn here between doing the right thing morally and doing the right thing legally, and in the end he realizes he has sworn to uphold the law and does just that.
Billy did indeed kill a higher officer and according to the laws must be sentenced death. On the other hand, Billy was sticking up for himself. Captain Veres legal side wins the battle; Billy is condemned and hanged. Billys hanging meant a lot. It tore the officers among themselves, most saying Billy was justified in his actions therefore should not be punished to the extent of death. This makes a difference in the whole issue of oppression aboard this ship.
We now know that the officers, while