Chapter 25 Summary and Analysis
The Chaplain: he ministers to Billy, who is awaiting execution
On the Indomitable, the uppermost deck is, for the most part, uncovered and exposed to the weather. Consequently, it is not a place where sailors go to spend their recreational time.
The starboard side of the upper gun deck is where Billy is lying, in chains, in one of the bays between the heavy guns.
The guns, carriages, and most everything else on the upper gun deck are painted black. Melville describes Billy’s appearance. His “exterior apparel, white jumper and white duck trousers,…
more or less soiled…(glimmers) like a patch of discolored snow in early April…” Two battle lanterns flicker with dirty yellow light, polluting the “pale moonshine.”
Billy lies there, just as much the Handsome Sailor as he has always been. His agony, his “young heart’s virgin experience of the diabolical…” has passed, having healed in his private interview with Captain Vere. He looks like a “slumbering child.”
The chaplain comes upon Billy lying in dreamy innocence. He realizes that his services are not needed—there is nothing he can offer that can transcend the peace which he beholds on Billy’s reclining figure.
In the early morning, the chaplain returns. Billy, who is awake now, welcomes him. The chaplain is worried that Billy does not truly understand what death is. Although when he is questioned, Billy acknowledges that he knows he is soon to be executed, he appears to have only a childlike grasp of death.
Billy does indeed understand death, but he has no fear of it. The chaplain attempts to convey the ideas of salvation and a Savior, but the discussion is too abstract for Billy to follow.
The chaplain, being a man of good sense as well as good heart, does not persist. He withdraws, but not before kissing the condemned man on his cheek.
The chaplain is convinced of Billy’s innocence, yet he does nothing to protest the terrible sentence. He believes that for him to do so would be futile. Furthermore, any such intervention is “beyond the bounds of his function.”
Melville describes the...
(The entire section is 539 words.)