Billy Budd

Characters Billy Budd- He is a bright-eyed,
twenty-one year old forewoman of the British Fleet. An
orphan, he is tall, athletic, friendly, innocent, and helpful. He
is a loyal friend, and a fierce fighter. All the officers like him
except for Claggart. Claggart- The Master-at-Arms that is
envious and jealous of Billy Budd. He is out to make Billy’s
life miserable and is the cause of Billy Budd’s execution.

Captain Vere- The Honorable Edward Fairfax Vere is a
bachelor of about forty. He has a nickname of “Starry
Vere.” Captain Vere is forced to execute Billy Budd though
he knew of his innocence. But nevertheless Dansker- A
veteran sailor who has taken a liking to Billy Budd. Tells
Billy that Claggart doesn’t like him. He is also one of the
most important members of the crew. Chapter’s 1-7 Page’s
1-27 The book starts out with the author remembering
seeing a handsome man many years ago. He is reminded of
this by the Handsome Sailor, Billy Budd. Billy is twenty-
one, a foretopeman of the British fleet who impressed
Lieutenant Ratcliffe of the H.M.S. Indomitable. Billy leaves
his ship the Rights of Man, and joins the H.M.S.

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Indomitable. He is received well by the crew and they like
him lots. An officer asks him about who his parents are and
he reply’s that he doesn’t know. He was found in a basket
hung on a man’s door handle in Bristol. Billy seems to be
practically perfect, but he does have one weakness. When
he is strongly provoked, he is inclined to stutter, or may even
become speechless. The author tells us of the uprisings in the
British navy. It is later called the Great Mutiny. They sail for
the Mediterranean and have an uneasiness about them as
they watch for signs of trouble or discontent. Chapter’s 8-15
Page’s 28-55 Billy had seen the gangway punishment, and
was determined that he would always perform his duties
well, and that his actions would never cause him to get yelled
at. Though he had made that resolution, he was occasionally
getting into slight trouble. He is confused by this, and goes to
Dansker, who seems to have taken a liking to him. Billy asks
him for his opinion, and he says that it is because Claggart
doesn’t like Billy. That with all evidence to the contrary, he
despises him. The day after the discussion with Dansker,
Billy spills soup on the freshly cleaned deck just as Claggart
passes by him. Claggart notices that it was Billy that spilled
the soup, and only taps him lightly with his rattan. The book
seems to say that Claggart has an inborn wickedness in him.

Claggart and the Captain seem to be the only two on the
ship that can see the unique innocence in Billy Budd. This
perception aggravates Claggart’s jealously even more.

Squeak has sensed Claggart’s envy of Billy Budd, and
makes up mean names for him, which he tells Claggart are
the sort of things that Billy is saying about him. A few days
after he spilled the soup, someone was trying to wake him
by whispering in his ear. They said to meet on a secluded
platform on the deck. He hinted to what it was about. It was
very vague. When Billy went to meet the mysterious man, he
wasn’t able to see his face because it was in the shadows,
but he could tell that the person was one of the
afterguardsmen. The sailor said that there was a gang of men
that were impressed into service just as Billy had been, and
he wanted to know if Billy wanted to join them. The sailor
offered Billy what looked like gold coins. Billy was angered
greatly by this, and stutters and threatens to throw the sailor
overboard. The sailor is offended and runs away. Chapter’s
16-23 Page’s 56-94 After the incident with the
afterguardsman, Billy tells his friend, the Dansker, some of
the details of what happened. Billy doesn’t tell the Dansker
that it was an afterguardsman, and the Dansker says that
Claggart is out to get him. It makes Billy wonder what
Claggart has to do with all of it. Billy disregards what the
Dansker has told him about Claggart, even though the
master-at-arms acts weird around him sometimes. He
doesn’t realize that beneath Claggart’s calm surface, there is
a jealous man that is out to get him. A few day later,
Claggart approaches Captain Vere and tells him that one of
the sailors is a dangerous man who is planning something
dangerous among the crew. The Captain becomes impatient
with Claggart and interrupts him, demanding to know who
this dangerous sailor is. Claggart says he is “William Budd.”
The Captain is surprised with this accusation and wonders
what the best way to silence the matter as quickly as
possible. Captain Vere decides to bring Billy Budd and
Claggart together into his cabin so that they may close the
matter when Claggart’s allegations are proved false. Claggart
waits in the captain’s cabin while his personal attendant is
sent to fetch Billy. Billy enters the captain’s cabin and notices
that Claggart is present. He is not alarmed, but rather
surprised. Captain Vere tells Claggart to tell Billy face to
face the accusations he had previously made. Claggart
repeats the story to Billy, and he is speechless. Vere orders
Billy to speak in his own defense, but Billy is still tongue-tied
and can’t seem to be able to find his voice. After an instant
more of silence, Billy’s arm lashes out and strikes Claggart
on the forehead. He falls to the ground dead. Billy and the
Captain try to revive Claggart, but he is definitely lifeless.

The Captain regains his official composure and orders Billy
to wait in the rear stateroom. He sends for the ship’s surgeon
who confirms that Claggart is dead. Captain Vere tells the
surgeon that he will quickly call a drum-head court, and to
tell the ship’s officers, but not anyone else. The surgeon
disapproves of the Captains order to call a drum-head
court, yet he can do nothing about it. Other lieutenants and
the marine captain share his amazement and dismay. The
drum-head court is put together, and Captain Vere is the
only witness. Billy admits to having killed the
master-at-arms, but says that Claggart was lying. He is very
sorry that he is dead, but never meant to kill the man.

Captain Vere urges the court to be compassionate with their
ruling. Billy is convicted and sentenced to be hanged at the
yardarm in the early morning. Chapters 24-31 Pages
95-116 The crew is summoned on deck, where the captain
tells them what has happened. The sailors are astonished by
what the hear. They can’t believe it. Claggart’s body is then
buried at sea according to the rituals of his naval rank. Billy
is put in irons and is visited by the chaplain. He doesn’t seem
to see the chaplain so he goes, but returns again around
midnight. The chaplain tries to tell Billy about God, but he
just listens politely even though he does not know what the
chaplain is talking about. Everyone is called on deck to
watch the execution. The last words that Billy Budd says is
“God bless Captain Vere!” They return to the English fleet in
the Mediterranean, where the ship meets hostility. In the
battle, Captain Vere is hit and seriously wounded by a
musket ball. The senior lieutenant captures the enemy ship
and takes both ships into Gibraltar. Captain Vere is dying,
and on shore he is heard to murmur to his attendant, the
words- “Billy Budd, Billy Budd.” A few weeks later, in a
Navy Chronicle, a passage said that there was a man named
Billy Budd that had stabbed Claggart. It also stated that Billy
Budd was not an Englishman, but an alien taking on an
English name. In the navy, anything that has to do with an
incident that happened in the service, is converted into a
monument. The spar from which Billy Budd was hung
became so important to some sailors, that a chip of it
became like a piece of the cross. Though they do not know
the whole story of the incident, they know subconsciously
that Billy could not be guilty of mutiny, or intentional
murderer. Thoughts on the book… I think that the author
was trying to tell us about how to accept an imperfect life.

That you should just accept things as they are, and to adjust
to things as is necessary. How you may be good in all kinds
of ways, but you may also have one flaw, and it may make
your life miserable. Billy Budd had one flaw, and that was
when he was under any kind of pressure, he would either
stutter or lose his ability to speak. He was nearly perfect in
every way, but the one flaw made him human. We should
accept life and live it to its fullest.

Category: Book Reports