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Billy Budd

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Billy Budd

When analyzing someone's actions, it is often difficult to tell whether they are driven by duty, inclination or both. Is what drives a person to do something important, or is it the act itself that we should care about? In the film Billy Budd there are three main characters whose actions are questionable at some point or another. These actions can be explained with the help of three different philosophers.

From the very beginning the title character in the film Billy Budd exemplifies Rousseauian ideals. Billy is taken from a ship called The Rights of Man. This ship, whose name is cleverly reminiscent of the document "Declaration of the Rights of Man", is based on equality. The officials wear plain clothes so that they can not be distinguished from the men working. There is also no division of labor- every man does his part to keep The Rights of Man moving.

When Budd is moved from his ship to the naval Avenger he is thrown into a society that he has never encountered before. Now aboard a ship with a clear division of labor, Billy Budd is forced to adjust to his surroundings. While to some, Billy may come across as dumb, he is quite the opposite. With his wide eyes taking in what is all around him, Billy asks only the questions which will give him exactly the information that he is looking for. When he witnesses a flogging, Billy Budd's question was about why the man was being flogged. "It is against him being man," Billy says in response to the apparent unwarranted flogging of his fellow crew member. This shows Billy's view that the laws put in place by society do not always reflect what is inherent to man.

Billy Budd starts off the film as very close to nature. By the end of the film however, we can see how he was socialized by his time on the Avenger. Throughout the film Billy is barefoot, but when he is being hanged the camera shows that he is wearing shoes for the first time. Billy's shoes symbolize how socialization has killed him.

All of Billy Budd's actions in the film stem from his heart. He truly wants to do what is right. When Billy leaves his post to save Jenkins, he is acting out of emotion. He could not watch a fellow crew member struggle without attempting to help him. Budd once again shows Rousseauian thinking when his efforts failed, because he ultimately had to choose his own life over that of Jenkins.

Claggart, an old and experienced officer on the Avenger is the Hobbesian character. According to Hobbes, nature is bad and society is good. Claggart's role aboard the Avenger is to enforce the laws set up by society. As individuals enter society, equality is lost. Claggart does not let his crew forget that he has almost unlimited power over them. Using his stick as an extension of his personality, Claggart scares the men into doing as they are told.

In an attempt at friendship Billy and Claggart discuss the sea. It is calm and peaceful to Billy, much like peoples' true nature. On the other hand Claggart sees chaos underneath the calm of the sea; a survival of the fittest. In true Hobbesian fashion, Claggart rejects Billy's attempt at friendship, assuming that it is insincere (since all men are selfish). Enraged by Billy's popularity aboard the Avenger, Claggart tries to destroy him, and ultimately succeeds. He falsely accuses Budd of mutiny in front of Captain Vere. This accusation brings out a violent side of Billy that we have never been privy to before. Due to a lack of words, Billy strikes Claggart, killing him instantly. Our minds are left with the image of Claggart's smirk, a final release of satisfaction for bringing Billy to the lowest level possible.

Captain Vere is arguably the most complete person in the film. He possesses the feelings of Billy, but fulfils the social duty of Claggart. According to Kant a person must live by their duty. If they are inclined to do that particular duty then they are not fulfilling it as they should; a duty is void of inclination. Man must also live by a categorical imperative. This imperative suggests that if the principle behind



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