The he could hide it; apprehending the

The relationship between Claggart
and Billy is ultimately what shapes the thinking of the novel. Take what
happens in chapter 9 for example, when Billy speaks to Dansker, about why
Claggart doesn’t like him. “The old man, shoving up the front of his tarpaulin
and deliberately rubbing the long slant scar at the point where it entered the
thin hair, laconically said, “Baby Budd, Jemmy Legs is down on you.”” Jemmy
Legs!” ejaculated Billy, his welkin eyes expanding. “What for? Why, he calls me
‘the sweet and pleasant young fellow,’ they tell me?”” Does he so?” grinned the
grizzled one; then said, “Ay, Baby lad, a sweet voice has Jemmy Legs.” No, not
always. But to me he has. I seldom pass him but there comes a pleasant word.”
And that’s because he’s down upon you, Baby Budd.”” (Melville). Billy cannot
even comprehend that Claggart would be out to get him, only because he’s been
nice to him in their encounters. This shows how bad Billy’s naivete really is.
Although he can acknowledge and perceive malice, he could never even dream that
someone could be nice to him while at the same time want the worst for him. Billy
will completely trust anyone, because it is against his very being to not give
that amount of trust to someone.

            Claggart plays a part in this almost poetically. He was
always seen as the antithesis to Billy. We heard of him but we never really
knew what made him tick until chapter 12. “With no power to annul the elemental
evil in him, though readily enough he could hide it; apprehending the good, but
powerless to be it; a nature like Claggart’s, surcharged with energy as such
natures almost invariably are, what recourse is left to it but to recoil upon
itself and, like the scorpion for which the Creator alone is responsible, act
out to the end the part allotted it.” (Melville). Claggart basically
runs on destroying everything that is good in the vicinity of his life. He’s is
shown as evil basically “just because”. He, however, isn’t as naïve as Billy. He
does know goodness but instead chooses not to embrace it. He sees Billy and due
to his maliciousness, he feels the need to destroy everything that he is. He is
a prisoner to his own evil, and that’s just the way he likes it.

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            To truly understand how this novel portrays the danger of
innocence, one need only look at Claggart’s death. Claggart’s death can really
be seen as a double victory for the man. Since his introduction, he’s been seen
almost like a satanic character. He would always work to destroy Billy from the
shadows. In chapter 19, Claggart accuses Billy of conspiring a mutiny on the ship.
In Billy’s impulse, he strikes Claggart on the head, killing him. Claggart successfully
used Billy’s innocence against him by using his own death. He does this by not
only making Billy abandon the goodness that was in him, by committing an act of
evil, but also by using his death to also get Billy killed, thus making him have
a moral fall from grace. Even the captain, who was torn the entire time, could
only say “Struck dead by an angel of God! Yet the angel must hang!” (Melville).

            “Could I have used my tongue I would not have struck him.
But he foully lied to my face and in presence of my captain, and I had to say
something, and I could only say it with a blow, God help me!” (Melville)(CH21). This is the part
of the story that personifies all the danger that innocence has. This is the
point where Billy’s naivete and innocence proves to be a detriment, rather than
a help. If he were not as flawed as “the ultimate good” in the microcosm that
is the ship, he could’ve possibly lived. It was his own foolishness and inability
to see the bad as well as the good, which ultimately led to his demise.

            Innocence is not inherently a bad thing. Everyone has a
modicum of innocence from birth. I however, believe that innocence has to be
lost for growth. To keep one’s innocence completely could spell trouble in the
future, as we’ve seen with Billy. One needs to have a level mind, and look at
not only the good in the world, but also the evil. If not, Claggart’s kind of malice
will be unchecked, and we would be back at square one.

Works Cited
Melville, Herman. “Billy Budd and the Piazza
Tales.” New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 2006. Chapter 9.
Melville, Herman. “Billy Budd and the Piazza
Tales.” Melville, Herman. Billy Budd and the Piazza Tales. New
York: Barnes and Noble Books, 2006. Chapter 19.
Melville, Herman. “Billy Budd and the Piazza
Tales.” Melville, Herman. BIlly Budd and the Piazza Tales. New
York: Barnes and Noble Books, 2006. Chapter 21.
—. BIlly budd and the Piazza Tales. New York :
Barnes and Nobles Books, 2006.
Melville, Herman. “BIlly Budd and the Piazza
Tales.” Melvile, Herman. Billy Budd and the Piazza Tales. New
York: Barnes and Noble Books, 2006. Chapter 12.