Billy Budd

Billy Budd Character Analysis

Billy is the protagonist of the novella and a perfect example of the type of person the narrator calls the Handsome Sailor. His beautiful appearance reflects his upstanding character and because of this he earns the admiration of almost all of those he serves with aboard both the Rights-of-Man and the Indomitable. Billy is an innocent, child-like young man, whom the narrator often compares to Adam before the fall of man. His innocent nature ends up being a liability aboard the Indomitable, though, as he is unable to understand or even notice the wickedness of Claggart, who irrationally hates Billy. His death is represented as a tragic martyrdom by the narrator, and although the only official record of his death condemns him as a criminal, he is remembered more sympathetically in the sailors' ballad with which Melville's story ends, "Billy in the Darbies."

Billy Budd Quotes in Billy Budd

The Billy Budd quotes below are all either spoken by Billy Budd or refer to Billy Budd. 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 numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin Classics edition of Billy Budd published in 1986.
Chapter 1 Quotes

But they all love him. Some of 'em do his washing, darn his old trousers for him; the carpenter is at odd times making a pretty little chest of drawers for him. Anybody will do anything for Billy Budd; and it's the happy family here.

Related Characters: Captain Graveling (speaker), Billy Budd
Page Number: 296
Explanation and Analysis:

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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:

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Chapter 2 Quotes

Billy in many respects was little more than a sort of upright barbarian, much such perhaps as Adam presumably might have been ere the urbane Serpent wriggled himself into his company.

Related Characters: Billy Budd
Related Symbols: Christian Imagery
Page Number: 301
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 10 Quotes

Handsomely done, my lad! And handsome is as handsome did it too!

Related Characters: John Claggart (speaker), Billy Budd
Page Number: 322
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 14 Quotes

But the incident confirmed to him certain telltale reports purveyed to his ear by "Squeak," one of his more cunning corporals... the corporal, having naturally enough concluded that his master could have no love for the sailor, made it his business, faithful understrapper that he was, to foment the ill blood by perverting to his chief certain innocent frolics of the good-natured foretopman, besides inventing for his mouth sundry contumelious epithets he claimed to have overheard him let fall.

Related Characters: Billy Budd, John Claggart, Squeak
Page Number: 329
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 19 Quotes

The same, your honor; but, for all his youth and good looks, a deep one. Not for nothing does he insinuate himself into the good will of his shipmates, since at the least all hands will at a pinch say a good word for him at all hazards. ...It is even masked by that sort of good-humored air that at heart he resents his impressment. You have but noted his fair cheek. A man trap may be under his ruddy-tipped daisies.

Related Characters: John Claggart (speaker), Billy Budd
Page Number: 344
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 20 Quotes

Struck dead by an angel of God! Yet the angel must hang!

Related Characters: Captain Vere (speaker), Billy Budd, John Claggart
Related Symbols: Christian Imagery
Page Number: 352
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 22 Quotes

But in natural justice is nothing but the prisoner's overt act to be considered? How can we adjudge to summary and shameful death a fellow creature innocent before God, and whom we feel to be so?

Related Characters: Captain Vere (speaker), Billy Budd
Related Symbols: Christian Imagery
Page Number: 361
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 25 Quotes

Not that like children Billy was incapable of conceiving what death really is. No; but he was wholly without irrational fear of it, a fear more prevalent in highly civilized communities than those so-called barbarous ones which in all respects stand nearer to unadulterated Nature.

Related Characters: Billy Budd
Related Symbols: Christian Imagery
Page Number: 372
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 26 Quotes

Billy stood facing aft. At the penultimate moment, his words, his only ones, words wholly unobstructed in the utterance, were these—"God bless Captain Vere!"

Related Characters: Billy Budd, Captain Vere
Page Number: 375
Explanation and Analysis:

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Billy Budd Character Timeline in Billy Budd

The timeline below shows where the character Billy Budd 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
The narrator says that this kind of handsome sailor was precisely what Billy Budd, also known as "Baby" Budd, was. Billy was a 21-year-old sailor, who joined the... (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 the ship's... (full context)
Natural Character and Appearance Theme Icon
...that he is taking away his best man. His crew was full of quarrels until Billy came. Billy's virtue improved those around him, who became fond of him, except for one... (full context)
Individual vs. Society Theme Icon
The Present vs. the Past Theme Icon
...to know that Captain Graveling was offering up his best man to a naval ship. Billy Budd emerges from his cabin with a box of things and the lieutenant tells him... (full context)
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Duty, Loyalty, and Camaraderie Theme Icon
As he's leaving the boat, Billy says farewell to his old ship and shipmates. This irritates Ratcliffe, who thinks it's a... (full context)
Chapter 2
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The narrator describes how Billy looked even younger than his age, with an almost feminine face. His transition from a... (full context)
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The Present vs. the Past Theme Icon
The narrator compares Billy to classical Greek sculpture, though he notes there was another quality in his appearance. An... (full context)
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The Present vs. the Past Theme Icon
The narrator continues to describe Billy, who was intelligent but illiterate. Not at all self-conscious, he was an "upright barbarian," like... (full context)
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Storytelling, Rumor, and Truth Theme Icon
According to the narrator, Billy had "masculine beauty" but did have one flaw, just like "the beautiful woman in one... (full context)
Chapter 9
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Aboard the Indomitable, Billy served in the foretop, with other young men managing the smaller top sails. This duty... (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 by... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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Billy told the Dansker about his troubles with minor infractions and asked for advice. The Dansker... (full context)
Chapter 10
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One day, in the ship's mess hall, Billy spilled a bowl of soup onto the floor. Claggart was walking by and was going... (full context)
Chapter 11
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The narrator wonders what reason Claggart could have had for being down on the innocent Billy Budd. The narrator admits it would be easy to invent some incident involving the two... (full context)
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In attempting to explain Claggart's dislike of Billy, the narrator notes that life at sea necessarily puts very different personalities in close contact:... (full context)
Chapter 13
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The narrator repeats that Claggart was very handsome except for his chin. Billy, though, was much more good looking. The narrator guesses that this may be the reason... (full context)
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...than mere jealousy of good looks, though. According to the narrator, he was envious of Billy's upstanding moral character and innocence. The narrator says that Claggart could hide the evil within... (full context)
Chapter 14
Natural Character and Appearance Theme Icon
Storytelling, Rumor, and Truth Theme Icon
...does not always arise from great circumstances, but can be provoked by trivial things, like Billy's spilled soup. The narrator thinks that Claggart must have interpreted the soup as a deliberate... (full context)
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Storytelling, Rumor, and Truth Theme Icon
Claggart had been ordering Squeak to carry out small pranks on Billy and Squeak, guessing that Claggart didn't like Billy for some reason, had been making up... (full context)
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The narrator guesses that Claggart's persecution of Billy was originally intended as a way of making a trial of his innocent character, to... (full context)
Chapter 15
Natural Character and Appearance Theme Icon
Duty, Loyalty, and Camaraderie Theme Icon
Not many days after the soup incident, the narrator says that something worse happened to Billy. He was sleeping in the upper deck one night and was awakened by someone, who... (full context)
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Individual vs. Society Theme Icon
Billy went to meet the man, whom he did not recognize in the dark. The man... (full context)
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Billy refused the coins and told the stranger to go back to his post, or else... (full context)
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Another awakened sailor nicknamed Red Pepper doubted Billy's story and said he'd like to punish Billy and whomever he was talking to. However,... (full context)
Chapter 16
Natural Character and Appearance Theme Icon
Billy was confused by this nighttime incident, which made him uneasy. The next day, he saw... (full context)
Duty, Loyalty, and Camaraderie Theme Icon
Billy knew that he should report the after-guardsman, but also feared being a tattletale. One night... (full context)
Chapter 17
Natural Character and Appearance Theme Icon
Billy Budd was reluctant to believe that Claggart disliked him. The narrator characterizes Billy as naïve,... (full context)
Chapter 18
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Billy continued to notice Claggart smiling at him and acting nicely toward him. However, there were... (full context)
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Duty, Loyalty, and Camaraderie Theme Icon
...ship's armorer and captain of the hold, both messmates of Claggart, also habitually looked at Billy with critical glances, but Billy did not think this was suspicious and his handsomeness and... (full context)
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The after-guardsman who had approached Billy in the night behaved kindly toward Billy whenever the two saw each other. The narrator... (full context)
Chapter 19
Duty, Loyalty, and Camaraderie Theme Icon
Justice Theme Icon
For some time after the night when Billy was awakened by the after-guardsman, nothing important happened. The narrator describes the Indomitable, which—on account... (full context)
Natural Character and Appearance Theme Icon
Storytelling, Rumor, and Truth Theme Icon
...He asked Claggart to identify the suspected sailor, and Claggart told him that it was Billy Budd. (full context)
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Citing Billy's handsomeness and general popularity on the ship, Captain Vere was incredulous, but Claggart told him... (full context)
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...to try to settle the matter in private, the captain sent a sailor to tell Billy he was wanted in the captain's cabin and ordered Claggart to enter the cabin when... (full context)
Chapter 20
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Storytelling, Rumor, and Truth Theme Icon
Billy was surprised to be summoned to the captain's cabin, but had no idea that he... (full context)
Natural Character and Appearance Theme Icon
Billy went pale at hearing the accusation and was so shocked he couldn't speak. Captain Vere... (full context)
Natural Character and Appearance Theme Icon
Captain Vere had known a young schoolmate who suffered from a speech impediment similar to Billy's, so he recognized Billy's inability to speak as mere nervousness, rather than a sign of... (full context)
Individual vs. Society Theme Icon
Captain Vere was stunned, and his former fatherly demeanor toward Billy was "replaced by the military disciplinarian." He ordered Billy to go to another room and... (full context)
Chapter 21
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...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... (full context)
Chapter 22
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...of the event (right after numerous mutinies in the navy) and notes how Claggart and Billy have reversed their roles: the innocent victim Billy is now the perpetrator of a crime,... (full context)
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...right and wrong, but had to follow the law. Vere feared that if word of Billy's deed reached the crew, it might stir up dissent and possibly lead to mutiny. Thus,... (full context)
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...captain of marines, and the sailing master to serve in the drumhead court. He had Billy brought in and Captain Vere himself served as the trial's only witness. Captain Vere gave... (full context)
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Billy then spoke. He said that Captain Vere had spoken the truth, that he had not... (full context)
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The court then asked Billy if he knew of any possible mutiny developing onboard the Indomitable. Billy paused and debated... (full context)
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Billy was then asked why Claggart maliciously lied against him. Billy responded that he had no... (full context)
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Captain Vere then said that the court should only consider Billy's deed itself, and that the killing of Claggart demanded an equal punishment—death. Since Claggart was... (full context)
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The first lieutenant asked if Billy had anything more to say for himself. He didn't. Billy was taken out of the... (full context)
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Vere summarized their predicament as follows: Billy killed the ship's master-at-arms and deserved the punishment of death. But, at the same time,... (full context)
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...they had two options: "condemn or let go." A lieutenant asked if they could convict Billy but not punish him, but Captain Vere said that if they did not hold to... (full context)
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...court to reach a decision than it is for a reader to pass judgment now. Billy Budd was convicted and sentenced to death by hanging. (full context)
Chapter 23
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Captain Vere had the task of informing Billy of his sentence. He went to the room where Billy was being held and the... (full context)
Chapter 24
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The narrator says that about an hour and a half passed between when Claggart and Billy first entered Captain Vere's cabin and when Captain Vere informed Billy of his sentence. In... (full context)
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...Claggart was given a proper burial at sea. Captain Vere had no further contact with Billy after informing him of his sentence, and those guarding Billy were told to let no... (full context)
Chapter 25
Natural Character and Appearance Theme Icon
The narrator describes Billy being kept watch over in an upper gun deck, lying between two guns. The narrator... (full context)
The Present vs. the Past Theme Icon
The ship's chaplain approached Billy, but felt that he could not say anything to him, because Billy looked so peaceful.... (full context)
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The chaplain attempted to convey to Billy some idea of death and of salvation. Billy listened politely, but did not take a... (full context)
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...narrator says that it was out of the chaplain's power to do anything to stop Billy's death, even as he saw Billy's great innocence. To try to do something would be... (full context)
Chapter 26
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At four in the morning, the crew was called to deck to witness Billy's execution. The chaplain was with Billy in his final moments, but the narrator notes that... (full context)
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Billy was hanged, and at that precise moment the sun illuminated the fog hanging over the... (full context)
Chapter 27
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A few days after Billy's death, the ship's purser and the surgeon discussed the event in the mess hall. The... (full context)
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The purser continues to debate the issue with the surgeon, emphasizing the extraordinariness of Billy's stillness. The surgeon refuses to see the event as phenomenal, as the purser would have... (full context)
Chapter 28
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The narrator returns to the moment of Billy's death. Right after his execution, a strange murmur started to grow among the crew, until... (full context)
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Billy was then given a burial, and the narrator describes another strange murmur arising at the... (full context)
Chapter 31
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The sailors remembered Billy fondly and memorialized him in a song that became a sailors' ballad. The narrator gives... (full context)