Chapter 3 Summary

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Last Updated April 25, 2023.

When Billy Budd was taken by force, the Indomitable was en route to join the Mediterranean fleet. Soon after, the ship successfully rendezvoused with the fleet.

Melville contextualizes Billy's impressment by placing it within the historical backdrop of 1797, the same year as the infamous mutinies at Spithead and Nore. The latter uprising was famously known as the "Great Mutiny" and is considered a significant event in British naval history, as it posed a serious threat to England.

Following the suppression of the Spithead mutiny, certain complaints of the sailors were addressed, but these were not adequately resolved, leading to the subsequent rebellion at the Nore. To put it differently, some of the sailors' lesser grievances were taken care of after the Spithead mutiny, but not to a degree that would have prevented the later uprising at the Nore.

The narrator explains that a mutiny is like a fever that can infect a healthy sailor. Like a disease, the mutiny spreads from man to man, until the ship is infected. 

Shortly after their mutiny, the mutineers joined the sailors in aiding Lord Horatio Nelson in achieving his triumph at the Battle of Trafalgar. This act of service appeared to completely pardon their earlier act of mutiny.

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Chapter 2 Summary


Chapters 4-5 Summary