A Lit Quote

It is grading time; no posts but Herman Melville begins the climactic twenty-second chapter of Billy Budd:

Who in the rainbow can draw the line where the violet tint ends and the orange tint begins? Distinctly we see the difference of the colors, but where exactly does the one first blendingly enter into the other? So with sanity and insanity. In pronounced cases there is no question about them. But in some supposed cases, in various degrees supposedly less pronounced, to draw the exact line of demarkation few will undertake tho’ for a fee some professional experts will. There is nothing namable but that some men will undertake to do it for pay.Whether Captain Vere, as the Surgeon professionally and privately surmised, was really the sudden victim of any degree of aberration, one must determine for himself by such light as this narrative may afford.

And so, Vere argues Budd must hang; his innocence is something the martial law to which they are sworn cannot judge – it can only deal with the undeniable guilt of the act itself.

On the other hand, you may well wonder what appropriate justice applies to those who believe Emily Dickinson was strongly influenced by the second world war, that Margaret Fuller would be appalled by war, and that one of Hester Prynne’s problems was “that adultery thing.” I was lucky this semester – I had several not just good but exceptional students who seemed to love American lit. But my students as always were truly diverse.

1 thought on “A Lit Quote”

  1. These days he could be sent to Cuba and housed with other jihadists…I never trusted B illy’s niceness and thought it a ruse, a way to ingratiate himself.

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