Critical Essays Form of Billy Budd


The overall pattern of action suggests classical tragedy. The protagonist is larger than life. Billy is compared to Achilles in his conversation with the Dansker, who functions here as a chorus. Blind fate determines that Billy be impressed, thereby drawing him to the time and place of the initial conflict. The action begins to build toward a climax at the moment that Claggart reports him as a conspirator in mutiny. There is a moment of false hope that Captain Vere will not succumb to Claggart's lie. Following quickly is Billy's tragic mishap of fatally striking his accuser. A second moment of false hope occurs at the court-martial when it seems that Billy may be exonerated. Then these hopes collapse as the jury convicts Billy and condemns him to hanging.

At several places in the novel, the crew serves as a chorus. The Dansker cryptically delivers the Delphic message to Billy, "Jemmy Legs is down on you." At the moment that Billy strikes Claggart, Captain Vere whispers, "Fated boy." From the moment of Billy's hanging, there is falling action until the novel comes to a close with the choric ode, "Billy in the Darbies."

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