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Billy Budd

Billy Budd


by Herman Melville

Billy Budd Truth Quotes

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

Quote #4

Now to invent something touching the more private career of Claggart, something involving Billy Budd, of which something the latter should be wholly ignorant, some romantic incident implying that Claggart's knowledge of the young bluejacket began at some period anterior to catching sight of him on board the seventy-four – all this, not so difficult to do, might avail in a way more or less interesting to account for whatever of enigma may appear to lurk in the case. But in fact there was nothing of the sort. (11.2)

Here the narrator is telling us the truth. He admits that, if he could give more back story on John Claggart, Claggart's actions might be more readily comprehensible. Yet he tells us, in all honesty, that such a background does not exist. Claggart, like Billy, is largely an "enigma." Try to find places where the narrator is not so straightforward about what he does and doesn't know. Is he consistently trying to give us a true relation of events or is he constantly putting his own spin on things?

Quote #5

Who in the rainbow can draw the line where the violet tint ends and the orange tint begins? Distinctly we see the difference of the colors, but where exactly does the one first blendingly enter into the other? So with sanity and insanity. (21.1)

The narrator here argues that it cannot be definitively said whether Vere is sane or insane. In other words, as far as human knowledge is concerned, there is no truth of the matter. How would you try to decide whether or not Vere is insane? Do you actually have to determine whether or not he is sane, or do you just have to determine whether or not his behavior is rational? Is that any easier?

Quote #6

In response came syllable not so much impeded in the utterance as might have been anticipated. They were these: "Captain Vere tells the truth. It is just as Captain Vere says, but it is not as the master-at-arms said. I have eaten the King's bread and I am true to the King." (21.12)

In front of the drumhead court, Billy confirms the truth of Vere's accusation while simultaneously denying Claggart's false accusation. What does it mean for Billy to be "true to the King," especially considering that he has never met the King? How would you characterize Billy's relationship to the King in the story? Has he actually been true to the King throughout?

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