Summary and Analysis Chapter 14



A few days after the soup-spilling episode, the story approaches a major crisis. One sultry night while Billy is sleeping on the upper deck, someone awakens him by whispering a request for a rendezvous on a secluded platform overlooking the sea. The voice adds mysteriously, "There is something in the wind."

Billy complies and joins the sailor who awakens him. In the hazy starlight, Billy cannot identify the man's face, but from his general physique he recognizes him as one of the afterguardsmen.

The man states that he, like Billy, was impressed into naval service. He reports that a gang of impressed men is inviting Billy to join them. He offers two unidentified twinkiing objects as an enticement. Angered to the point of stuttering, Billy threatens to throw the traitor over the rail. The repulsed conspirator quickly disappears.


This is a key chapter in the novel, for here occurs the crisis, or clash of opposing forces. Melville devotes the entire chapter to relating this incident, which is used to complete Claggart's plan. Billy's doom is sealed. Through his henchmen, Claggart has obtained the evidence he needs, or so he thinks, to discredit Billy.

Claggart's overt act in this chapter — for he is plainly the instigator — is one more in the universal drama of the war between good and evil, waged in this case on the H.M.S. Bellipotent, which becomes Melville's own symbol for the world. All of Claggart's other actions against Billy have been sly and devious; this one provides the means for his direct accusation of Billy Budd.

Another purpose of this incident is to underscore the fact that Billy may be congenial, but he is not to be trifled with. Just as he punched Red Whiskers on the Rights-of-Man, he is ready to defend himself against evil association with a disgruntled rebel.


under the lee of the booms sheltered by the supports at the bottom of the sails.

foremast the front mast.

forechains chains at the bow (front) of the ship that connect to the anchor.

bulwarks walls of the ship.

deadeyes blocks of wood containing holes where ropes are tied.

shrouds and backstays ropes that connect the side and stern of the ship to the mast and act as stabilizers.

disciplinary castigation over a gun a method of punishing sailors by tying them face down over the barrel of a cannon and flogging them.

marlinspike a pointed iron tool used to separate strands of rope.

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