* The story opens with the narration of how a particularly young, beautiful, and deft sailor with rare leadership qualities is given the name "Handsome Sailor".
* The narrator recollects the good old times when a fleet of sailors would follow their captain because of his exemplary leadership skills.
* The narrator remembers a time when he saw a very dark, African sailor with large gold hoops parading around the deck, being watched by his fellow sailors. To the narrator, this man is a great example of the "Handsome Sailor".
* Another good example of the "Handsome Sailor" to the narrator is a character named Billy Budd who is fair-skinned, blue-eyed, and about twenty-years-old.
* Billy Budd is sailing home on his ship, named "The Rights of Man" when they are stopped by the King's fleet out in the water.
* Billy is taken aboard the new ship and is forced to join...
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