The Mystery of Iniquity
“For what can more partake of the mysterious than an antipathy spontaneous and profound such as is evoked in certain exceptional mortals by the mere aspect of some other mortal, however harmless he may be, if not called forth by this very harmlessness itself?” In this quote, Melville perfectly describes John Claggart’s fundamentally depraved nature, which was caused not by being led astray into evil ways, but was born into this world simply evil beyond reasoning. Unlike those good at heart and tempted away from the course of goodness, Claggart was not influenced by outside evils, wicked teachings, or malevolent individuals, but was simply embodied with evil upon entering into this world and is incapable of being “saved”. This evil nature of Claggart’s is even more treacherous because he conceals it, and outputs a civilized and self-controlled aura, unlike any normal madman. It’s as if Claggart uses intellect and self-control to hide his true hate towards Billy, thus making Claggart a possessor of the worst form of evil. He is smart enough to show kindness toward Billy, masking his nefarious intentions of eventually corrupting Billy. For example, when Billy spills his soup, Claggart makes a comment, as if to express his “respect” for Billy by letting the entire crew hear. However, Claggart relieves his anger and frustration caused by this situation by reprimanding and beating the drummer boy. If Billy Budd represents goodness, innocence, and ignorance to evil in the world, then Claggart represents an almost-Satanical character, completely corrupted and evil, a tempter and destroyer of innocence. Claggart doesn’t dislike Billy because of anything Billy has done or any harm he has caused but feels true hatred toward him because of his innocence and ignorance to the corrupt and malevolent world. Claggart’s nature of pure evil consumes him with one goal and one goal only: corrupt and destroy Billy’s innocence. Billy, in this aspect, is a...
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