Billy Budd: Chapter Analysis To Evaluate The Sense Of A Novel

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Chapter 1-2

While reading this chapter I noticed Melville’s technique when it comes to his writing style. His sentences are long, complex, and tough. In comparison, he’s nearly like Shakespeare within the sense that he has been influenced by him. This is shown in the way he’s cramming the sentences to its maximum capacity. I additionally noticed the deviations from the story that appeared unrelated to his central story. An example is when he describes Billy it includes an anecdote about an experience he had in port. After the anecdote, Herman Melville comes back to the story starting the next paragraph with, ‘To return’ (4).

Chapter 3 – 5

Since chapters 3-5 are relatively short, I decided to analyze them together. While I was analyzing them and began to understand that these chapters established the historical background of the story. In consequence, it gives us an essential in understanding in what fate befalls Billy. While establishing this era as one among the turmoil on one hand. Melville, on the other hand, cannot help but linger on the naval feats of Admiral Nelson that occurred in that era. It seems like Melville’s deviation in Chapter 4, is used implicitly to justify the harshness of the navy towards its crews.

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Chapter 6

While reading Chapter 6 I was able to gain an understanding of Vere’s character. Melville emphasizes Vere’s loyalty toward his office and how when it comes to discipline no compromises can be made, however, he will care for his crew’s wellbeing. Additionally, Vere is a person of firm principle but, is no stranger when it comes to deep thoughts and abstraction. From this chapter alone it seems as though Vere is principal, law, order, justice; he is also the father figure to Billy’s Christ.

Chapter 8

Reading Chapter 8 gave me an insight to what the Master -at- Arms John Claggart is like. Claggart is the third of our main characters. Melville’s physical description of him is synonymous with the traditional representation of the devil: a tall, thin, sinister, intelligent-looking and constitutionally imperfect man. Additionally, Claggart’s unknown past heightens the anxiety of others about him; the only clue to his past is what the narrator tells us which is that he may have a shameful or criminal past. In a way, Claggart is evil cloaked in power, abused authority, evil itself.

Chapter 11-13

Chapters of 11- 13 are a symbolic extension of the nature and origins of evil. This subject matter of evil is vital to the story plot and its characters. However, Melville treats this subject modestly, not bold enough to take away the indefinable and mysterious components of evil. All at the same time as he explores the psychology of hate. This is proven as Claggart is affected to hate what he cannot possess: Billy’s goodness and wonder. Melville even hints at a sexual attraction, because the narrator speaks of Claggart’s fascination with Billy’s physical look. Evidence to further suggest this is that Claggart sees ‘in an aesthetic way’ Billy’s attractiveness, and ‘fain would have shared it’ (37). He wishes he could have Billy’s charm; in other words, he desires Billy. Also, his hate of Billy could come from a fear of rejection and he protects himself by imagining rejection and that Billy is nursing a deep hatred for him.

Chapter 18

In this chapter, we tend to get a far better insight into what Vere thinks of Billy. we see that Vere isn’t resistant to Billy’s appearance and innocence. Also, he was considering promoting Billy so the boy would be beneath his gaze more often. Its thanks to this and Billy’s attractiveness and disposition that makes Vere reluctant to take Claggart’s words to heart and its to the point that even before meeting Billy, he’s already considering ways to deal with the lies of Claggart

Chapter 19

After reading Chapter 18 I found myself invested in what would happen in Vere’s cabin. Moreover, within the next chapter, I was pleasantly surprised by the turn of events that occurred. Due it to it giving me a far better understanding of fate. I say that because it seemed as if this encounter was certain to happen. Although Billy selections and conducts save Vere and keep the Bellipotent’s capacity to serve, he has no alternative however to die. This theme of fate has woven itself through the entire plot of the book. this is immediately observed by Vere when Claggart falls dead when he addresses Billy as ‘Fated boy’ (57). Sadly, due to his situation, Billy loses his life, rather than because of any specific thing that he has done. Despite everything Billy still appears to be a symbol of good and innocence

Chapter 23 – 27

In chapters 23 – 27 I noticed that everything was handled quietly and quickly. Since, there is the threat of mutiny is just below the surface and it seemed like Vere took immediate discipline actions and the Bellipotent routine is used to keep the sailors in line. Even after Billy’s death, and again after his funeral, there seem to be whispers among the men along with the vague murmurs, one that might very well signal a rebellion. It is kept in line by routine, by form, by the rituals of sea life.

Chapter 28

Even though the story has ended Melville left sort of an epilogue which tells of events that take place after the story. For example, Melville seems to suggest that Captain Vere motivations in the previous chapter were partially selfish. Even though that may be the case he still expresses discontent with the Captain’s early death because ‘The spirit that Œdespite its philosophic austerity may yet have indulged in the most secret of all passions, ambition, never attained the fullness of fame’ (86). I found this reasoning to be weird due to the fact the he uses the same descriptors to describe Claggart’s secret obsessions. It may be that the author is hinting that Vere may have been more similar to Claggart than we think.

Chapter 30

I found chapter 30 to be the most intriguing because it ends with a song about Billy and the fact that this chapter left me questioning what I previously read in the book. In turning the Bellipotent into a relic, Melville brings comparison of Christ and Billy. However, we are left to consider not only this comparison but the difficult questions that surround Billy’s execution which I even asked myself at the end of this. Following this, we’ve got the eerie sailor’s song, wherein the ready Billy imagines being dead at the bottom of the sea.. Even though the sailors think of Billy as a kind of Christ, this song doesn’t display as such but as a boy waiting at the bottom of the ocean floor. Moreover, Billy Budd is not like others whereas most would have resolved the questions that the reader has instead Melville gives us difficult situations, with difficult questions, but refuses to resolve them for us.   


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