Billy Budd

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Ship Names Symbol Icon
The names of both of the ships Billy serves on are significant. He is originally a sailor on the Rights-of-Man, which the narrator notes takes its name from a book by Thomas Paine. Paine's book, which played an influential role in pushing the American colonies toward the American Revolution, essentially argues that political revolution is justified when a government fails to protect individual rights. Paine's book thus affirms the rights of individuals over the interests of society at large. The Rights-of-Man, then, can be seen as symbolizing the importance of individual rights. When Billy is forced to leave this ship and says "good-bye to you too, old Rights-of-Man," he bids farewell to his own personal rights, which have been trumped by the navy. The naval ship Billy joins has an equally significant name: the Indomitable (in some editions, the Bellipotent). This ship name symbolizes the indomitable, unbeatable force of society (for the Bellipotent, the power of war), which curtails the individual rights of the sailors, many of whom have been forcibly conscripted into naval service. The ship names in Melville's novella thus encapsulate the narrative's central conflict between individuals and society.

Ship Names Quotes in Billy Budd

The Billy Budd quotes below all refer to the symbol of Ship Names. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Natural Character and Appearance Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Classics edition of Billy Budd published in 1986.
Chapter 1 Quotes

And good-bye to you too, old Rights-of-Man.

Related Characters: Billy Budd (speaker)
Related Symbols: Ship Names
Page Number: 297
Explanation and Analysis:

Billy Budd has been conscripted to leave his old ship, the Rights-of-Man, to join a new ship named the Indomitable. The captain of the Rights-of-Man has complained that he is losing his best man, and that Billy has ended the quarrelling that used to take place among his sailors. As Billy leaves the ship, he says "and good-bye to you too, old Rights-of-Man." On the surface, this reveals Billy's fondness for his previous ship, as well as his calm acceptance of moving onto a new one.

At the same time, his farewell also has a symbolic meaning; as illustrated by the ship's name, Billy is bidding farewell to a community in which the rights of individuals were respected. The name "Rights-of-Man" comes from Thomas Paine's 1791 book, which morally condoned revolution against a government if that government does not respect the rights of individual citizens. This argument has a strong connection to the issue of mutiny aboard ships. On the new ship, the Indomitable, the rights of individual sailors are suppressed in order to ensure the absolute power of the ship over the French Republic. This tension between the authority of society and its leaders and the rights of the individual is one of the main themes of the novel. 

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Ship Names Symbol Timeline in Billy Budd

The timeline below shows where the symbol Ship Names appears in Billy Budd. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Natural Character and Appearance Theme Icon
Individual vs. Society Theme Icon
...sailor, who joined the British navy after having served on a merchant ship called the Rights-of-Man. A ship in the royal navy, the Indomitable (called the Bellipotent in some editions), was... (full context)
Duty, Loyalty, and Camaraderie Theme Icon
Individual vs. Society Theme Icon
The sailors of the Rights-of-Man view Billy with "silent reproach" as he prepares to leave their ship. The narrator describes... (full context)
Individual vs. Society Theme Icon
The Present vs. the Past Theme Icon
...that on-board, jokingly calling Billy Budd by the name Apollo. The narrator notes that the Rights-of-Man was named after the book by Thomas Paine, which affirms the natural rights of individuals... (full context)
Natural Character and Appearance Theme Icon
Duty, Loyalty, and Camaraderie Theme Icon
...narrator, though, notes that this would have been far from Billy's good nature. Aboard the Indomitable, Billy becomes at home, liked by other sailors for his "good looks" and genial attitude.... (full context)
Chapter 3
Duty, Loyalty, and Camaraderie Theme Icon
The narrator's main story takes place in the summer of 1797, when the Indomitable joins a naval fleet in the Mediterranean. The narrator explains that not long before there... (full context)
Chapter 6
Natural Character and Appearance Theme Icon
Duty, Loyalty, and Camaraderie Theme Icon
The narrator says that on the Indomitable there was no hint of mutiny, as the sailors were loyal to Captain Vere, a... (full context)
Chapter 8
The Present vs. the Past Theme Icon
The narrator describes one of the petty officers of the Indomitable, named John Claggart, who was the master-at-arms. This position was originally for the purpose of... (full context)
Chapter 9
Justice Theme Icon
Aboard the Indomitable, Billy served in the foretop, with other young men managing the smaller top sails. This... (full context)
The Present vs. the Past Theme Icon
But on the Indomitable, Billy repeatedly found himself in trouble involving minor infractions like stowing his bag incorrectly. Troubled... (full context)
Natural Character and Appearance Theme Icon
Duty, Loyalty, and Camaraderie Theme Icon
When the Dansker had first seen Billy on the Indomitable, he had "a certain grim internal merriment," perhaps because the naïve Billy was so incongruous... (full context)
Chapter 19
Duty, Loyalty, and Camaraderie Theme Icon
Justice Theme Icon
...night when Billy was awakened by the after-guardsman, nothing important happened. The narrator describes the Indomitable, which—on account of both its sailing capabilities and the character of Captain Vere—was often sent... (full context)
Duty, Loyalty, and Camaraderie Theme Icon
Storytelling, Rumor, and Truth Theme Icon
...news, but felt compelled to tell him that he knew of a sailor aboard the Indomitable who was dangerous and was gathering together like-minded sailors who had been conscripted into service. (full context)
Natural Character and Appearance Theme Icon
Storytelling, Rumor, and Truth Theme Icon
...fine specimen of the genus homo." He had been pleased with Billy's service on the Indomitable so far and thought he was an excellent sailor. (full context)
Chapter 22
Natural Character and Appearance Theme Icon
Duty, Loyalty, and Camaraderie Theme Icon
Justice Theme Icon
The court then asked Billy if he knew of any possible mutiny developing onboard the Indomitable. Billy paused and debated saying something, but thought of his own personal honor and duty... (full context)
Chapter 25
Duty, Loyalty, and Camaraderie Theme Icon
Individual vs. Society Theme Icon
...innocence. To try to do something would be a transgression of his role on the Indomitable. Moreover, the narrator claims that the very existence of a chaplain on a warship is... (full context)
Chapter 29
Duty, Loyalty, and Camaraderie Theme Icon
Justice Theme Icon
Storytelling, Rumor, and Truth Theme Icon
After Billy's death, the Indomitable engaged in combat with a French vessel named the Athéiste. During the fight, Captain Vere... (full context)
Chapter 31
Natural Character and Appearance Theme Icon
Duty, Loyalty, and Camaraderie Theme Icon
Justice Theme Icon
The Present vs. the Past Theme Icon
According to the narrator, the crew of the Indomitable treated the spar from which Billy was hanged as a monument. A piece of it... (full context)