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: Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin Classics edition of Billy Budd published in 1986.).
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.
...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)
...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)
...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)
...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)
...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)
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)