Billy Budd


Herman Melville

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Billy Budd: Chapter 21 Summary & Analysis

The narrator wonders if Captain Vere made the right decision in calling for a trial immediately. The surgeon, for example, thought that it would be better to confine Billy Budd onboard and wait for the navy's admiral to pass judgment on him. He even wondered if Captain Vere had suddenly come "unhinged." Still, the surgeon would not disobey the captain's direct orders and gathered the lieutenants and captain of marines, all of whom also thought that Billy's fate should be decided by the admiral.
The narrator questions whether it was just for Captain Vere to put Billy on trial immediately, rather than waiting for an admiral to pass judgment once the ship had returned to fleet, as others onboard would have wished. The surgeon disagrees with Captain Vere (and even thinks Vere may be mad; another instance of the someone interpreting actions and seeing something deeper than appearances) but, as a loyal sailor, still will not disobey a direct order.
Natural Character and Appearance Theme Icon
Duty, Loyalty, and Camaraderie Theme Icon
Justice Theme Icon
Individual vs. Society Theme Icon
Storytelling, Rumor, and Truth Theme Icon