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Chapter 19 and 20

Chapter 19

When Billy came into the cabin to join the captain and Claggart, he didn't think anything was wrong. If anything, he was hopeful that the captain wanted to promote him with Claggart's consent. Therefore, he was astonished when Vere told Claggart to repeat the accusation of Billy's supposed involvement in a mutiny. Claggart looked Billy right in the eyes and repeated what he said before. Billy went completely white in the face, and he couldn't move or speak. Vere shouted at Billy to say something in his own defense, but the accusation together with the evil look in Claggart's eyes so completely shocked him that he lost all ability to speak. Before this instance, Vere was not aware of Billy's tendency toward vocal defect, but he understood it immediately. He put his hand on Billy's shoulder and gently told him to calm down and to take his time. Billy tried to speak again and again, but the words refused to come out. Suddenly, his right arm flew out and hit Claggart hard on the head, thereby killing him.
Captain Vere and Billy tried to revive Claggart, but he was limp. Vere sadly ordered Billy to go to a nearby stateroom to await further instruction, and then he called Albert in to get the surgeon. When the surgeon arrived, he asked him to examine Claggart. The surgeon knew before he went through the tests that he was looking at a dead man. Suddenly, Vere exclaimed, pointing at the body, "It is the divine judgment on Ananias!" (Ananias was a false Christian who was struck dead by the hand of God.) Then he said, "Struck dead by an angel of God! Yet the angel must hang!" (the angel being, of course, Billy Budd). Vere explained what happened to the confused surgeon, and then asked for his assistance in moving the body to a room next to where Billy was being held. Vere then told the surgeon to get the lieutenants and Mr. Mordant, the captain of the marines for a meeting of the drumhead court (a court-martial held on the spot in times of war).

Chapter 20

The surgeon thought that the best way to handle the tragic situation was to hold Billy prisoner until they returned so that they could refer the matter to the admiral. Despite his feeling that Vere might be acting a bit rashly, he had to follow his captain's orders. When the surgeon told the lieutenants and the captain of the marines what happened, they also shared his opinion that they should let the admiral decide this matter.

Browse all book notes

Historical Context
Main Characters
Points to Ponder
Did You Know
Plot Summary
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3 and 4
Chapter 5 and 6
Chapter 7 and 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10 and 11
Chapter 12 and 13
Chapter 14 and 15
Chapter 16 and 17
Chapter 18
Chapter 19 and 20
Chapter 21
Chapter 22 and 23
Chapter 24 and 25
Chapter 26 and 27
Chapter 28, 29, and 30


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