Chapter 2 Summary and Analysis
Billy very soon becomes a celebrity, as well as a favorite, among the men aboard the Indomitable.
Billy Budd is a very young man, and he looks even younger than his years. His extremely youthful appearance is due largely to his facial aspect, which Melville describes as that of “a lingering adolescent.” It is Billy’s naiveté which is apparent in his face. Billy also possesses a complexion so soft that it is “all but feminine in (its natural) purity….”
After Billy is taken aboard the Indomitable, he adapts extremely well to life aboard ship, and he is liked by the crew. His striking good looks have a favorable effect upon the common sailors as well as upon the “more intelligent gentlemen of the quarter-deck.” Billy, however, takes little notice of his effect on people.
Billy confides to his new shipmates that he is a foundling and that he knows nothing of his origins. He seems to possess some features that hint of noble descent. His intelligence is average, and he has an obviously sound mind. Nevertheless, Billy is illiterate. He does have the ability to compose his own songs, which he can sing with a very charming voice.
Despite his unblemished beauty, Billy has one flaw, “an occasional liability to a vocal defect.” In periods of stress, he often develops a stutter.
In this chapter, Melville cites the Bible in several passages. Billy is much like Adam before “the urbane Serpent wriggled himself into his company.” His virtuous innocence is pristine and unadulterated, deriving from “a period prior to Cain’s city and citified man.” The biblical references underscore the theme of conflict between Good and Evil that is constant throughout the story. These particular references also demonstrate that Billy is in many respects a “Noble Savage.”
The description of Billy Budd’s speech impediment foreshadows the dire events which will occur in Chapter 20. It is precisely this tragic flaw which will lead...
(The entire section is 497 words.)