free booknotes online

Help / FAQ




<- Previous Page | First Page | Next Page ->
MonkeyNotes-Billy Budd by Herman Melville
Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version

CHAPTER SUMMARIES WITH NOTES

(Chapter divisions follow the Hayford and Sealts edition)

Chapters 1-2

"In the time before steamship," a certain type of superior sailor, known as the "Handsome Sailor," is often seen in seaports. This naturally attractive and masculine sailor can be of any nation or color, but he must be representative of the moral and physical perfection of the human race. He must also possess strength, to wrestle the sails easily. The narrator tells of once observing an African Handsome Sailor in Liverpool. His mates were so proud of his company that they nearly worshipped him like a pagan statue.

Billy Budd, a foretopman in the British navy, is a representative "Handsome Sailor". At the age of twenty-one, he is a picture of masculinity and perfect physical form. His only weakness seems to be the slight stutter that he has when he is angry or upset. When the chapter opens, he is on a homebound merchant ship, The Rights of Man. A ship from the British navy stops the merchant ship. Since the navy is short of sailors, it impresses Billy into service. He is chosen by the keen-sighted Lieutenant Ratcliffe, who chooses no other men than Billy. He does, however, help himself to the captain's liquor and brags about taking Billy away. The Rights' captain is very sorry to lose Billy, for he considers him his best sailor, "the jewel of 'em." Billy is not only a good sailor, but a peacemaker--"like a Catholic priest." He is so well liked by his fellow sailors that they do anything Billy asks. He once gave a shipmate a "drubbing" for ill behavior and won the man's heart. Ratcliffe assures the captain that the King will be forever grateful to him for such a beautiful specimen as Billy. Captain Graveling all but sobs to see him go.


To the surprise of his fellow sailors, Billy makes no objection to the impressment. He waves a hardy good-bye to his Rights' shipmates and boards the British navy's Indomitable, not seeming at all unhappy about the change. When a ship's officer questions him about his past, Billy can give little information. When he is asked who his father is, Billy says, "God knows, sir," for he was abandoned in Bristol as an infant. His innocence is an odd addition to the navy ship, and he doesn't understand its social code. As a result, he is a man unto himself. He does not like the impressed sailors who resent their position, torn away from loved ones.

Notes

The first chapter introduces important Background Information. First, the setting is established. Since it is a time before steamships and the entire tale takes place on board a ship, the setting becomes a sailing vessel. The atmosphere that is established on the ship in the first chapter is vague enough that it almost seems unreal; but it is clear that the story takes place in a time when the rights of men are not protected. It becomes ironic, then, that the name of the merchant ship is the Rights of Man; it is even more ironic that Billy is forced to leave it and join a ship controlled by military rules.

Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version


<- Previous Page | First Page | Next Page ->
MonkeyNotes-Billy Budd by Herman Melville
Google
Web
PinkMonkey

Google
  Web PinkMonkey.com   

All Contents Copyright PinkMonkey.com
All rights reserved. Further Distribution Is Strictly Prohibited.


About Us
 | Advertising | Contact Us | Privacy Policy | Home Page
This page was last updated: 5/9/2017 9:52:26 AM