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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 #7

Contrary to the effect intended, these words so fatherly in tone, doubtless touching Billy's heart to the quick, prompted yet more violent efforts at utterance – efforts soon ending for the time in confirming the paralysis, and bringing to his face an expression which was as a crucifixion to behold. (19.6)

Billy is unable to respond to Claggart's accusation at a couple of different levels here. One is at the level of understanding; he is so astonished that Claggart would falsely accuse him of treason that he doesn't know what to say. Another is at the level of natural impediment; his stutter prevents him from saying anything in reply. How do these two levels relate to one another? In what ways does nature constrain how characters act and think in the novel?

Quote #8

This utterance, the full significance of which it was not at all likely that Billy took in, nevertheless caused him to turn a wistful interrogative look toward the speaker, a look in its dumb expressiveness not unlike that which a dog of generous breed might turn upon his master, seeking in his face some elucidation of a previous gesture ambiguous to the canine intelligence. (21.20)

What is the narrator revealing about his own nature when he refers to Billy as having "canine intelligence"? What exactly does he mean by canine intelligence? Does it seem to be something that he values or something that he denigrates?

Quote #9

Turning, he to-and-fro paced the cabin athwart; in the returning ascent to windward climbing the slant deck in the ship's lee roll, without knowing it symbolizing thus in his action a mind resolute to surmount difficulties even if against primitive instincts strong as the wind and the sea. (21.25)

As Captain Vere prepares to speak to the drumhead court, the narrator notes that his physical actions begin to express his mental actions. He begins pacing because he is mentally preparing energy to give a speech. How and why do the characters physical actions often imitate their states of mind? What is the relationship between the physical and the mental? Is it possible to surmount primitive instincts?

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