Chapter 21 & 22 Notes from Billy Budd

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Billy Budd Chapter 21 & 22

The line between sanity and insanity is described as being hard to draw and this affects the Captain according to the surgeon. The incident came at a bad time. The surgeon knows that both Billy and Claggart were in the wrong. The Captain wants to think everything through carefully. While he does this, he is criticized by his officers. The Captain is aware that this situation could inspire mutiny. The drumhead court is convened. The judges are the first lieutenant, the captain of the marines and the sailing master. This is a variant of the usual court. It is held in the same cabin as the incident. Billy is arraigned. Captain Vere is the sole witness. He tells of Claggart's false accusations and the single punch. When asked if this is true, Billy responds:

"Captain Vere tells the truth. It is just as Captain Vere says, but it is not as the master-at-arms said. I have eaten the King's bread and I am true to the King." Chapter 21, pg. 482

The Captain nods in agreement. Billy stammers and breaks down admitting he should have used his tongue instead of his fist. They ask if he is part of a planned mutiny, and then ask him why the master-at-arms would have lied. The Captain tells the interrogator that Billy cannot know that answer. He tells the court to direct attention to the murder, not the reason. They ask if anyone else can shed light on the subject. The Captain says that this is not important. He paces and speaks about the conflict between military service and moral scruple. In this discussion, it is right by God to spare the innocent but wrong by the military not to execute him. The Captain eloquently curses this paradox. He warns his men not to have too-warm hearts, but not to ignore their consciences either. The men struggle in their seats and Captain Vere recounts the events in a sterile manner. The captain of the marines bursts in and says that Billy had no ill-intention. The Captain agrees, but he reminds him that their court is a military court, not a civilian one. In a non-military court, Billy would be cleared, but they must follow the Mutiny Act. The sailing master asks if they can convict without execution. The Captain says no. He stops speaking and the three men become silent. They reflect on an execution that occurred in the American navy. Billy is convicted and sentenced to hang at dawn.

Topic Tracking: Morality 7
Topic Tracking: Historical Context 5

Chapter 22

The Captain delivers this decision to Billy himself. Nothing else of their discussion is known. A senior lieutenants sees the Captain come out of their meeting. His face bore a look of agony and revelation. No one ever speaks to the Captain about these events.

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