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

Billy Budd


by Herman Melville

Billy Budd Sin Quotes

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

Quote #7

As to Claggart, the monomania in him – if that indeed it were – as involuntarily disclosed by starts in the manifestations detailed, yet in general covered over by his self-contained and rational demeanor; this, like a subterranean fire, was eating its way deeper and deeper in him. Something decisive must come of it. (17.10)

This passage is intimately related to the one just above. The narrator again takes a fateful view of things: "Something decisive must come of it." Let's grant the narrator the fact that Claggart has no control over his actions. Might he gain more control if he didn't leave his vices "covered over by his self-contained and rational demeanor"? Don't we need to become familiar with our weaknesses and moral faults in order to master them?

Quote #8

These lights of human intelligence, losing human expression, were gelidly protruding like the alien eyes of certain uncatalogued creatures of the deep. (19.4)

What is the narrator trying to capture by describing Claggart as one of the "uncatalogued creatures of the deep"? Is it possible for eyes to lose human expression? Is the narrator not dehumanizing Claggart by the way he describes him? Trying to make him seem "other," not a part of the moral human family that the narrator imagines exists?

Quote #9

[Billy Budd:] "Could I have used my tongue I would not have struck him. But he foully lied to my face and in presence of my captain, and I had to say something, and I could only say it with a blow, God help me!" (21.14)

Billy's major sin in the novel is killing Claggart. Like Claggart, he seems to have no control over his actions. He says that he "had to say something," and that he "could only say it with a blow." If neither of them had control over their actions, then are they really that different? Is the only difference that Billy's action was motivated whereas Claggart's was not? Didn't Claggart imagine some motivation? Is a motivation less valid if it's imagined?

People who Shmooped this also Shmooped...