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MonkeyNotes-Billy Budd by Herman Melville
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Notes

In these chapters Claggart is introduced, and the length of text devoted to describing his character and circumstances indicates he will become a significant character in the plot. He is like and unlike Billy. Neither have a past, though while Billy's might be regal, it is suggested that Claggart's is criminal. Billy is healthy, large, and strapping and not afraid of hard work. Claggart is small, dark, and pallid and avoids hard work. Billy is honest, while Claggart is cunning. Although Melville does not draw Claggart as a completely evil force in this chapter, he certainly indicates he is trouble. His mystery does not speak well for him, especially his hint of "foreignness." His overreaction to Billy's spilling the soup is typical of his overreaction to anything that does not please him.


Billy is described in his job as foretopman. He is not quite at the top of the rigging, but he is at the point of strength, where he can watch the decks below. He is an exemplary sailor, working hard to do the job correctly. Like an innocent, he sees a sailor being punished and swears he will never get in trouble. Ironically, he does get in trouble for all kinds of small things, and he does not understand why. These minor troubles foreshadow the later conflict that Billy will have.

There is an invisible force working against Billy. When the experienced Dansker tries to briefly explain what is going on with Claggart, the innocent Billy has no way of understanding such manipulative tactics. When the Dansker refuses to explain further, Billy is confused. He must try to learn the lesson for himself; but it will be difficult for Billy to comprehend something he does not begin to understand.

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