Billy Budd Chapters 20-21 Summary and Analysis

Herman Melville

Chapters 20-21 Summary and Analysis

New Character:
The Surgeon: he is summoned after Billy knocks down John Claggart, and it is he who pronounces Claggart dead. Later, he discusses the mysterious occurrence at Billy’s death

Summary
At first, Billy is surprised but not at all apprehensive. Claggart approaches Billy, “mesmerically looking him in the eye,” and repeats the accusation. Only slowly does Billy come to understand of what he is being accused, and he is transfixed. Vere urges him to “Speak, man…Speak! Defend yourself!” Horrified by the accusation, his stutter becomes intensified “into a convulsed tongue-tie.” Straining to obey Vere’s counsel to defend himself, Billy feels like he is suffocating.

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(The entire section is 562 words.)