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Billy Budd

Billy Budd

by Herman Melville

Truth Quotes

How we cite our quotes:

Quote #1

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)

Here, the narrator seems to be trying to paint a portrait of Billy as a simple, honest creature. But does not seeing the possibility of double meanings really mean that Billy is honest? Is he honest or just sincere? What's the difference?

Quote #2

The mysteriousness here became less mysterious through a matter of fact elicited when Billy at the capstan was being formally mustered into the service. Asked by the officer, a small, brisk little gentleman as it chanced, among other questions, his place of birth, he replied, "Please, sir, I don't know." (2.4)

Why are the men so curious about Billy's origins? How does knowing a man's background, knowing where he's from, make people feel that they know the man? How might things be different if the men knew the truth about where Billy and Claggart came from?

Quote #3

He possessed that kind and degree of intelligence going along with the unconventional rectitude of a sound human creature, one to whom not yet has been proffered the questionable apple of knowledge. (2.10)

This quote, another characterization of Billy, relates back to the first. Here his honesty is classified as "unconventional rectitude." To what degree can Billy be called intelligent if the narrator wants to compare him to Adam before the Fall, to "one to whom not yet has been proffered the questionable apple of knowledge"? If Billy is really this simple, then do truth and falsity even exist for him? Does he know the difference?

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