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At the outset, the importance of the concept of the Handsome Sailor is explained; he is a universal character with universal appeal. In fact, the author gives details about a Handsome Sailor who was an African. Then Billy is introduced as a Handsome Sailor. He is furthered described as a peacemaker, giving the first image of his Christ-like character. In fact, Lieutenant Ratcliffe says to Captain Graveling, "Blessed are the peacemakers, especially the fighting peacemakers." And Billy can be a fighter, once giving a decisive blow to a fellow sailor. This information about Billy foreshadows a later incident when he strikes a fellow sailor on the Indomitable. Melville clearly establishes that Billy has a temper, and his anger can come quickly when someone deals cruelly with him.
Billy looks very young--his face nearly "feminine in purity." He is a rustic beauty among the navy sailors, admired by the more intellectual gentlemen, even though he is illiterate. There is also something mysterious about Billy's attractiveness, seeming almost like a Greek god. In actuality, he is called an "upright barbarian," an English noble savage. He seems to be a reflection of Adam, minus the Fall. His only blemish is his stutter, which rises in emotional moments. Although he possesses many romantic traits, Billy is not the typical romantic hero.