© 2016 Shmoop University, Inc. All rights reserved.
Billy Budd

Billy Budd


by Herman Melville

Billy Budd Duty Quotes

How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Paragraph)

Quote #1

Billy was now left more at a loss than before. The ineffectual speculations into which he was led were so disturbingly alien to him that he did his best to smother them. It never entered his mind that here was a matter which, from its extreme questionableness, it was his duty as a loyal bluejacket to report in the proper quarter. (15.5)

These lines come up in Billy's defense after he fails to mention his encounter with the afterguardsman. First, how does duty tend to react when it encounters something that is unclear? Does it leave or it does it attempt to bring it to light so as to make it conform to duty? Second, is there any excuse for ignorance and naiveté when it comes to doing one's duty?

Quote #2

The father in him, manifested towards Billy thus far in the scene, was replaced by the military disciplinarian. (19.8)

Here is a description of Vere's action toward Billy after he hits Claggart. Do Vere's fatherly feelings have to go against his sense of duty in this scene? Is there any way for him to reconcile his sympathy for Billy with his duty as a Captain? As the action progresses, do you think he succeeds in this goal or not?

Quote #3

To argue his order to him would be insolence. To resist him would be mutiny. (20.2)

Duty, by its very nature, is hierarchical. You have to be dutiful to something, and likely that something is in a more powerful position than you are. Isn't there something wrong with the concept of duty, though, when a man can't express his own thoughts and common sense for fear of what a higher-up will tell him? Does the surgeon have a duty to express his feelings that the captain is mad? If so, can you think of a way that he could carry out this duty?

People who Shmooped this also Shmooped...