by Herman Melville
Billy Budd Wisdom and Knowledge Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Paragraph)
Had the foretopman been conscious of having done or said anything to provoke the ill will of the official, it would have been different with him, and his sight might have been purged if not sharpened. As it was, innocence was his blinder. (17.4)
Here, we get one of the narrator's many explanations of Billy's essential innocence. Is innocence compatible with wisdom? Is knowledge and experience necessarily opposed to innocence?
Though something exceptional in the moral quality of Captain Vere made him, in earnest encounter with a fellow man, a veritable touchstone of that man's essential nature, yet now as to Claggart and what was really going on in him his feeling partook less of intuitional conviction than of strong suspicion clogged by strange dubieties. (18.21)
To what extent is wisdom a "moral quality"? To what extent is it just a question of intelligence? What is the difference between intelligence and morality? What is it about Claggart that clogs Vere's "intuitional conviction"?
Though at the time Captain Vere was quite ignorant of Billy's liability to vocal impediment, he now immediately divined it, since vividly Billy's aspect recalled to him that of a bright young schoolmate of his whom he had once seen struck by much the same startling impotence in the act of eagerly rising in the class to be foremost in response to a testing question put to it by the master. (19.6)
Take this quote in relation to the one above it. There, Vere was said to be "a veritable touchstone of that man's essential nature." What is it about his memory that allows Vere to empathize with Billy when he could not empathize with Claggart? Why is Billy easier for Vere's intuitions to get a grasp on than Claggart is?