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Billy Budd

Billy Budd


by Herman Melville

Billy Budd Morality and Ethics Quotes

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

Quote #1

Billy, though happily endowed with gaiety of high health, youth, and a free heart, was yet by no means of a satirical turn. The will to it and the sinister dexterity were alike wanting. To deal in double meanings and insinuations of any sort was quite foreign to his nature. (1.15)

Is dexterity, a facility for double meanings and insinuations, somehow linked with evil in the text? Does the fact that Billy is such a "simple" creature suggest that his relationship with morality is not as complex as other peoples'? How do Billy's moral obligations differ from those who have a knack for producing double meanings?

Quote #2

His simple nature remained unsophisticated by those moral obliquities which are not in every case incompatible with that manufacturable thing known as respectability. (2.12)

The narrator is pressing pretty hard upon us the point that Billy is some sort of special moral being, completely natural and almost incapable of conceiving of evil. Leaving aside the moral question for a second, is it possible for Billy to be respectable if he's incapable of "manufacturing" such a thing? What is the difference between "respectable" and "respected"? What relation does being respectable bear to morality and to ethics?

Quote #3

At the least, we can promise ourselves that pleasure which is wickedly said to be in sinning, for a literary sin the divergence will be. (4.1)

In apologizing for his divergences, the narrator invokes a sort of literary morality, one aspect of which seems to be sticking to the story. Is there such a thing as literary morality? Is how you tell a story a moral choice? A series of moral choices?

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