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Chapter 2

In this chapter, as is often in Melville, nothing happens. He develops the character of Billy Budd. Aboard the huge warship, Billy was not the center of attention that he always had been among the various crews of small ships in the merchant marine (not that he noticed or cared). The recent change in environment for Billy was analogous to an unsophisticated beauty from the country brought into the fancy court life of the city to mingle with the highborn, educated women. The knowledge and expertise of the older sailors on the warship far exceeded Billy's seamanship. He was young and inexperienced, but he had a pure quality that the other sailors lacked. By his appearance, he seemed to be of pure Saxon blood, such a fine physical specimen that he resembled the Greek sculptures of Hercules. That he was nobly born there was no doubt, but as to exact line of descent we could not know because Billy Budd was found one morning at the doorstep of a house in Bristol.
Billy was an innocent, something like Adam before eating from the apple of knowledge or Man before the intervention of the serpent. Billy was illiterate, which is not surprising since he spent his life at sea and never ventured, when he was on land, farther than the beach or the taverns at port. He had a singing voice like the nightingale's and the self-consciousness of a Saint Bernard. In a way, he was an upright animal, a kind of "noble savage." Uncorrupted and uninfluenced by civilization, the virtues in Billy Budd spoke of the good qualities that man was naturally born with rather than developed by living in the city. Although he seemed to be perfect in every way, he did have one flaw. When he got nervous, Billy tended to stutter uncontrollably. This flaw, Melville tells us, will have disastrous consequences, which seems to suggest that the serpent still has the ability to exert his influence.

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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