Chapters 12-14 Summary

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Last Updated April 25, 2023.

At the start of this chapter, Melville goes off topic to mention that some criminal cases are particularly difficult for courts to handle. Juries listen to different legal and medical professionals who hold differing opinions, making it challenging for courts to distinguish truth from lies. Melville proposes a solution, "Why not also summon experts from the clergy?" He contends that clerics have access to people at their most vulnerable moments, and are therefore more likely to have a genuine understanding of what is in a person's heart, as opposed to legal or medical professionals.

John Claggart is an attractive man, with the exception of his large chin, who pays close attention to his appearance. However, he feels inferior to Billy Budd, who possesses exceptional physical attractiveness. Claggart's comment, "Handsome is as handsome does," exposes his jealousy of Billy's remarkable beauty, which is the reason behind his hostility towards him.

Although envy and antipathy may seem like incompatible characteristics based on human logic, in reality, these two emotions often coexist in human experience. Envy is a passionate feeling that can affect anyone, regardless of their intelligence level.

Melville observes that Claggart's motives for his actions towards Billy are not solely based on jealousy. Claggart has conflicting feelings of attraction and aversion towards Billy. However, he is unable to suppress his inherent malevolence, which is comparable to the nature of a scorpion created solely by the Creator and cannot change its destiny.

Claggart believes that Billy intentionally spilled the soup as a clever way to express his dislike towards Claggart. Claggart's suspicions are supported by information provided by "Squeak," one of his subordinates.

Billy Budd's gear has been tampered with by Squeak, which has caused Billy to get into trouble. Squeak is aware of Claggart's dislike for Billy and therefore creates false reports about Billy's misconduct to worsen their relationship. Claggart does not verify Squeak's reports and is easily convinced of Billy's guilt. Although Claggart has a conscience, his strong desire to find fault in Billy overrides his conscience.

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Chapters 9-11


Chapters 15-18 Summary