There is much to be said about innocence. If one is with innocence than one can do no wrong. But that is not all to be said. Innocence is not always a good thing. It could make one naive or blind to certain evils. Like in the case of Billy Budd. Billy was innocent from evil and therefore could not see the evil of John Claggart approaching him, out to destroy him. It is known Billy’s innocence was his down fall by hiding the true evil from his eyes. But why was John Claggart out to destroy Billy?. There are several reasons why John Claggart attempts to destroy Billy Budd.
John Claggart wants to destroy Billy because he is extremely wary of Billy’s intentions. He has come to believe that Billy is planning a mutiny and wants to take over the ship. Claggart reports this to captain Vere saying,” During today’s chase and possible encounter I had seen enough to convince him that at least one sailor aboard was dangerous.” Meaning that he felt Billy was against them. Claggart felt that Billy’s big plan was to get in favor of all the men on the ship and then turn them against the captain. Captain Vere responds by having Billy and Claggart meet in private where Claggart can openly accuse Billy of this crime. Fortunately, Claggarts attempt to destroy Billy for mutiny fails because he is struck down by Billy in one blow, ending the matter, but opening a much more serious one.
Claggart is also seen as attempting to destroy Billy due to his evil nature in general. Nothing depicts Claggart’s evil nature better than the way he looks. His cleanly chiseled chin and cunning violet eyes that can cut lesser sailors with an evil glare. His pale yellow skin and jet black curly hair; they all contrast his character. He is out to destroy Billy because of the constant struggle of good and evil. Billy is innocent and cannot comprehend evil therefore making him good. People calling Billy “baby budd, and handsome sailor” just seem to contrast the good in him even more. Claggart was born evil and therefore is evil. Claggart would naturally be out to destroy Billy because he is what he is against. Just good vs. evil in a battle for control. That is why Claggart is naturally out to bring the downfall of Billy Budd.
It is very true that jealousy is another reason why John Claggart wanted the destruction of Billy Budd. Claggart was never well liked by the crew he was watching over. This would not have been a problem except that Billy Budd was so very liked by the crew. Every time he saw the love of Billy he was reminded of the dislike of himself. One old sailor on the ship noticed this too and warned Billy by saying, “Jimmy Leggs is down on you”. Jimmy Leggs referring to Claggart. One instance which occured in the kitchen just made matters worse when Billy spilled the soup he was making and it ran down the corridor just as Claggart was walking by. Claggart did not openly get angry at Billy for the accident, but inside felt he had done it on purpose. As the soup ran down the corridor it seemed to symbolize an actual line drawn between the two. The resentment Claggart felt for Billy made him look him too critically. That is a good reason why Claggart could have thought Billy was planning a mutiny and would want him destroyed. He was just jealous of Billy’s popularity.
There are several reasons why John Claggart attempts to destroy Billy Budd. One might ask why and come up with the obvious and not so obvious answer, even though we know the real reason for his downfall. That was his innocence. Yes, Billy Budd was innocent of evil, but that innocence is what made him unable to see the evil out to destroy him in Claggart. Too much innocence is not always a good thing, but a little helps from doing wrong. There is quite a bit to be said about innocence.
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