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Billy Budd

Billy Budd


by Herman Melville

Billy Budd Man and the Natural World Quotes

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

Quote #4

Now something such an one was Claggart, in whom was the mania of an evil nature, not engendered by vicious training or corrupting books or licentious living, but born with him and innate, in short "a depravity according to nature." (11.11)

From a narrative point of view, what is the difference between leaving Claggart's behavior unexplained and suggesting that his is "the mania of an evil nature"? How does it affect the way that we perceive and think of Claggart? Is there anything natural about this type of description? Remember that the narrator is only speculating on Claggart's nature, that none of the above is actual fact.

Quote #5

The more he turned the matter over, the more he was nonplussed, and made uneasy and discomfited. In his disgustful recoil from an overture which, though he but ill comprehended, he instinctively knew must involve evil of some sort, Billy Budd was like a young horse fresh from the pasture suddenly inhaling a vile whiff from some chemical factory, and by repeated snorting trying to get it out of his nostrils and lungs. (15.2)

Here is another description (this one after Billy has been asked to take part in a mutiny) that compares Billy to a horse. Why is Billy so often compared to animals? Secondly, how can you explain something like disgust, a "gut feeling" that someone or something is wrong? How much of the action in this book is a result of gut feelings and how much of it is a result of reflection?

Quote #6

Though in general not very demonstrative to his officers, he had congratulated Lieutenant Ratcliffe upon his good fortune in lighting on such a fine specimen of the genus homo, who in the nude might have posed for a statue of a young Adam before the Fall. (18.17)

Notice the extent to which Billy's naturalness is being idealized (that is to say, made unnatural). What might motivate such descriptions other than a desire for accuracy? Why is the narrator so determined to make Billy seem unfathomably good and pure?

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