Billy Budd By Herman Melville Summary and Analysis Chapters 22-23

Summary

Late that afternoon, Captain Vere informs Billy in private of his conviction and sentence: to be hanged from the yardarm in the early morning watch. As the captain leaves the cabin, the first person to see him is the senior lieutenant, who recognizes in the captain's face an expression of suffering.


Less than two hours later, the crew convenes on the moonlit deck. The captain tells them briefly and clearly what has happened — Claggart is dead; Billy Budd killed him and has been tried and convicted; he is sentenced to hang, and the execution will take place early the next morning. As he finishes, a murmur arises from the crew, but it is ended instantly when the boatswain and his mates pipe down the watch.

Claggart's body is buried at sea according to the ritual and honors of his naval rank. Billy is guarded by a sentry, who is ordered to let only the chaplain see the condemned sailor.

Analysis

Melville is a master of rhythm. His penchant for digression is always under control. He can switch to dynamic brevity whenever it suits his purpose. In these brief chapters, he presents a fast wrap-up of the rituals of British naval procedure on a ship in wartime. All compassion spent, the officers and crew of the Bellipotent perform the formalities of their grim duties.

They observe every detail of the regulations. Captain Vere relates to the condemned man his fate. Members of Claggart's mess attend to the body. The crew lowers it into the sea with proper rites. Unobtrusive precautions are taken to prevent disorder. Meanwhile, one assumes, the Bellipotent sails on to rejoin the Mediterranean fleet.

Glossary

Abraham may have caught young Isaac Melville compares the Captain's private conference with Billy to Abraham's intimate discussion with Isaac, his condemned son, in Genesis 22:1–8 of the Old Testament.

boatswain the ship's officer charged with summoning the crew for duty.

about ship return to duties.

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