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MonkeyNotes-Billy Budd by Herman Melville
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Captain Vere is astonished. He has noticed Billy, admired how he works, thought of promoting him to a place on the ship where he might encounter him more often, and felt the navy made an excellent investment in this young sailor. In order to stop Claggart's ridiculous charge, the captain tells Claggart that he must provide proof. Claggart gives some circumstantial evidence and says that further proof will be provided.

Vere is convinced that Claggart is lying; therefore, he is more concerned about dealing with Claggart than about dealing with Billy. Vere determines that he must keep this matter under wraps until it is straightened out. Therefore, he orders Claggart to meet with him and Billy Budd in his cabin, where watchful eyes will not interfere. Vere asks his hammock-boy to discretely summon Billy.


Notes

These chapters are very important ones, for they show the depth to which Claggart will go to entrap Billy. At the same time, Billy continues to be totally innocent, almost like a child-man. It is not that he is childish in his behavior, but he totally lacks experience in judging people and events. In the middle of the night he follows an unknown caller to the forechains, for he cannot tell anyone no. He is shocked and terribly insulted by the afterguard's approach on the subject of mutiny and threatens to throw him over the rail for his evil thoughts. Because of his innocence, Billy does not link the incident to Claggart and is shocked when Dansker does. It is obvious, however, that Billy and Claggart are on a collision course.

Captain Vere finds himself placed between Billy and Claggart, not by his own choosing but by Claggart's accusation. Melville is very careful to set Vere down in a very tight spot. All the circumstances surrounding Claggart's accusations, although ridiculous to Vere, work to make it impossible for Vere to ignore them. The ship is far from the fleet, the charge is serious in light of recent events, Vere doesn't really know Claggart, and Claggart is intelligent enough to craft his case. His disdain for Claggart is clear, but he cannot endanger the ship by letting the accusation go uninvestigated. He feels he has no choice but to investigate the charge. He does, however, decide to keep the case under wraps, not wanting the other sailors to know what is going on. As a result, he arranges a secret meeting between Billy and Claggart in his cabin. After the fact, the meeting is not a wise decision on the captain's part.

It is important to note the difference in the ways that Vere and Billy are approached by the unscrupulous Claggart. Vere is approached in the daylight and on the deck in front of others. Claggart wants to make sure he is formally acknowledged by the captain and seen by others. It is part of his plan. Billy is approached stealthily at dark, taken to a secret compartment, and invited to mutiny. Claggart wants to make certain that no one else sees what happens when Billy is approached. It is also part of his plan. In spite of the different circumstances, Claggart uses deceit with both men. In both cases, he makes up a lie in an effort to entrap Billy. In Vere's small world, there are powerful forces at work.

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