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Chapter 10 and 11

Chapter 11

To say that Claggart disliked Billy Budd or that he had a mean-streak would be an understatement. There was something far more sinister, an evil intent within his heart that governed his behavior. Perhaps if Claggart and Billy Budd had crossed paths before meeting on the Bellipotent, there might be a reasonable explanation why Claggart was "down on" him. But no such encounter occurred to explain his mysterious animosity toward the Handsome Sailor. If the language describing evil in the Bible were more accessible to his readers, Melville says that he use it. But since it isn't, he tries to explain Claggart's evil in a different, albeit more complicated way.
For lack of a better phrase, Melville says that Claggart has (quoting Plato) a "depravity according to nature," and then he proceeds to explain its meaning. Natural depravity does not usually occur among prisoners or among brutish men. It is a quality that requires brilliant deception, and for that you must search among the intellectuals within the confines of civilization. Once there you would be hard pressed to find it as well because it does not manifest itself in normal vices - drinking wine, excessive greed, etc. - nor does it seem to harbor any ill will towards man. Claggart hides his natural depravity by behaving as if he were perfectly normal. Melville explains that this is the most evil form of lunacy because Claggart has the awareness of mind to hide his animosity towards Billy, whereas a madman has no control. For instance, at the mess hall, Claggart succeeded in convincing everyone that he likes Billy Budd, although moments later he took out his pent-up aggression on the drummer-boy. No one except the Dansker suspects Claggart's evil intent, and that is what makes him so dangerous.

Browse all book notes

Historical Context
Main Characters
Points to Ponder
Did You Know
Plot Summary
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3 and 4
Chapter 5 and 6
Chapter 7 and 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10 and 11
Chapter 12 and 13
Chapter 14 and 15
Chapter 16 and 17
Chapter 18
Chapter 19 and 20
Chapter 21
Chapter 22 and 23
Chapter 24 and 25
Chapter 26 and 27
Chapter 28, 29, and 30



 






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