The Depravity of John Claggart
Depravity is the general badness of character, wickedness of the mind and heart, and also has an absence of religious principles. A depraved individual is one who will do corrupt acts and practices to the good that surrounds them. John Claggart is a character in Herman Melville’s Billy Budd, Sailor, which is consumed with depravity. He is the evil of the story. The following paragraphs will present Claggart’s depravity.
The evil nature of Claggart is depicted in the way he looks. The following paragraph is a detailed description of John Claggart the master-at-arms: “Claggart was a man about five-and-thirty, …a vague field for unfavorable surmise” ...view middle of the document...
His age also contributes to these rumors – as to why he would enter the navy so late in life. The details that Melville give here us about Claggart helps setup is depraved nature that is out to get Billy Budd who is all that is good/innocent in the world.
Claggart uses the scene where Billy spills the soup as the master-at-arms walks by in the paragraph, “The next day an incident … who says that Jemmy Legs is down on me!” (Melville 2450), as an excuse to hate Billy. When Claggart notices it is Billy who has spilled the soup – his expression changed from nasty to playful. Claggart almost loses his temper at Billy and would have been seen by everyone on the ship, even though this is their first real encounter.
As Claggart leaves he has a grim looking smile on his face, which is his wickedness trying to come out that he is suppressing. In the Scarlet Letter, Chillingsworth was suppressing his hatred for Dimisdale in the same way when “looking after the minister with a grave smile” (Hawthorne 1407). Both men are clearly evil and just waiting patiently for their chance to bring the object of their hatred down. Melville again associates Claggart with a tyrant when he says the men laughed “with counterfeited glee” (Melville 2450). This statement is just adding more to the painting of Claggart as an evil person. Billy joins in the laughter of the men because he does not recognize the evil that is right in his face smiling down at him. His innocence is blinding him to the real nature of the world. Just as Montresor did to Fortuanto in Poe’s The Cask of the Amontillado, Fortuanto never recognized the evil that was sharing a drink of wine with him. Claggart’s depravity is trying to take over here, but he suppresses it as he has bigger plans in mind to rid himself of this “good handsome sailor”.
In the following paragraph, “Now something such as one was Claggart … but born with him and innate, in short “a depravity according to nature” (Melville 2453); Claggart is naturally evil. Melville is presenting him as a man who was born this way; Claggart’s nature has not come about by any harshness or from reading books. He also makes reference in this paragraph to “licentious living” (Melville 2453) – sexually immoral living; which Melville states is not the reason for Claggart’s depravity. It is just born in him. Where as Richter states in his essay homosexual tension as a reason for Claggart’s behavior, “Perhaps these considerations will help explain Claggart’s homosexual longings for Billy, without making them the “key” to the entire novellas” (Richter 23). Melville’s paragraph here is to present Claggart as a naturally evil person who does not have to have a reason to hate Billy.
Most of Claggart’s depravity is from envy, which is discussed in the following chapter, “Now envy and antipathy … but he despaired of it” (Melville 2453-2454). Melville here refers to Claggart’s envy and antipathy to...