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Chapter 7 and 8

Chapter 7

Captain Vere was more educated and intelligent than most of his fellow captains in the navy. He loved books on history, biography, and philosophy and he always stocked up with a new batch every time he went on a new voyage. These books helped him to keep a realistic perspective on the changing social and political atmosphere in Europe. These books, though, did not make him the best conversationalist. The other captains he consorted with thought him to be boring and bookish. While none of them doubted that he was one of the best sailors, they were turned off when he would bring up in conversation a reference to something he read in one of his philosophical books that no other captain could have possibly read. Captain Vere didn't really care what the others thought about him because he was content living in his own little world.

Chapter 8
Melville says that there is only one more person on board the Bellipotent that he needs to describe in greater detail, John Claggart, the master-at-arms. Melville claims that he will try to explain Claggart's profile but warns that he will be imprecise - his task is similar to an astronomer trying to figure out a comet's travels before he sees it for the first time. No one knows what Claggart did before he came aboard the Bellipotent, and he was notoriously quiet about the subject which only invited the formation of nasty rumors from the rest of the crew.
What they do know about Claggart is fairly minimal. He was about thirty-five, somewhat skinny and tall. His hands looked like he never work too hard with them, and his face was not tanned like the others. Claggart's brow bespoke of an above average intellect, and his manner confirmed this. Since he had no naval experience whatsoever, he started out in the lowest position of all - that of draining the sewage below the hatches - but he quickly worked himself up by working hard and kissing up to his superiors. He achieved swiftly the position of master-at-arms, a chief of police in charge of maintaining order in the lower gun decks.
Everyone hated the master-at-arms because his job required him to snitch on the other sailors and get them in trouble. Since the crew didn't understand why such an educated man would come into the service of the navy as an adult when he wasn't really qualified, they came up with reasons of their own. One of the popular rumors floating about was that he was a con artist who got in trouble with the law and he was serving in the navy to pay for his crimes. Such a rumor could have been true since the British navy at the time was so desperate to fill their ships with able-bodied men. The navy became something of a safe house for criminals because once enlisted, these men were out of the reach of the law back at home. One written account goes so far as to state that the British government even emptied their prisons to fill their ships. But Melville says to take all this with a grain of salt because the crew would gladly start any bad rumor against the master-at-arms.

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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