This essay explores thematic concerns of Herman Melville’s Billy Budd, Sailor such as violence and justice from the perspective of testimonial truth. To do so, this study first examines the motivation of each main character’s testimonial action, and after that, its sincerity. While Billy’s violence for his innocence and Claggart’s false witness because of his hatred of Billy both signify the perversion of sincerity in testimony, we see that only the legal testimony of Captain Vere lends itself to the secular frame of truth-telling. Such a recognition of secularism draws on a moral dilemma between justice and the law. In that sense, comparative studies tried in this essay, such as Melville’s connection with John Brown and with Henry David Thoreau, explicate the historical and intellectual contexts for the author’s critique of violence and justice. Especially, Hannah Arendt’s theory about the relationship between action and speech deserves our critical attention. Like Arendt criticizes the happening of ‘mute violence’ in the public sphere, the notion of “demanding action while ridiculing talk” as expressed in John Brown’s attack in 1859 can be applied as well to Billy’s violence. When divine justice with violence is at odds with human testimony, its judgment remains controversial.
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