The respective moral natures of Billy Budd and John Claggart are symbolized by their appearances. Every bit the Handsome Sailor, Billy Budd is exactly what he appears to be: the paragon of virtue. Claggart, on the other hand, is black-haired and pale, in singular contrast to the other sailors. His visage seems “to hint of something defective or abnormal in the constitution and blood.” Meanwhile, the rose-tan in Billy’s cheek is seemingly lit by “the bonfire in his heart.” Claggart himself reinforces the parallel between appearance and character when he cryptically remarks that “handsome is as handsome did it” in reference to the soup spill.

The narrator indicates that a clash between these polar opposites is inevitable. The discrepancy between the two, both physically and morally, inspires a hatred in Claggart that is both visceral and sustained. Most likely, Claggart finds Billy’s harmlessness objectionable out of envy. In addition, although Claggart is certainly capable of recognizing and containing his complex animosity for Billy, he can hardly overcome it. Thus, within the confines of the warship, the simmering conflict between Claggart and Billy seems destined to continue brewing until it boils over.