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Chapter 26 and 27

Chapter 26

A few days later, the purser (an accountant) brought up the matter of Billy's peculiar hanging to the surgeon at the dining hall. The purser thought that Billy's ability to fight spasms during his hanging indicated strong will power. The surgeon said that he directed the procedure under which Billy was to be hung, but he doesn't believe that will power had anything to do with the lack of spasms. If the surgeon had to come up with an explanation, he might say that Billy's heart stopped when the rope tugged at his neck and Billy therefore was dead before he was hung. But the surgeon says that he really can't give a logical explanation. The purser pressed on and asked if it was possible that his death was a form of euthanasia, where (as Melville understands it) a person simply wills himself to die without pain. The surgeon says that there is no scientific basis for any of the purser's guesses, and he says that he has to attend to a sick man.

Chapter 27

The moment of Billy's hanging and the few moments following were marked by a solemn silence, but immediately thereafter the crew members who witnessed the execution started to whisper to one another. The commotion was broken up by a shrill whistle and the command given to set sail. It was the logical order to give after such an event in order to get the crewmembers' minds off the matter. After they seemed to have settled down, the entire crew was called onto deck again to witness Billy's burial at sea. They wrapped him in the canvas of his hammock and slid his body into the sea. Another murmur from the crew began which was shortly joined by the sound of seagulls flocking by the spot where Billy's body fell into the sea. Sailors were a superstitious bunch of people, and they thought that the seagulls circling above Billy's body was some kind of sign. They didn't have long to think about it, however, because the crew was commanded again to report to their stations and sail off. Captain Vere ordered such a strict set of commands following the execution because he suspected that the mutiny at Nore came about because its captain allowed a disruption on the deck to go on for too long. But over the course of the day, the sailors found their chances to mourn the loss of Billy.

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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