Billy Budd Chapters 23-24 Summary and Analysis
by Herman Melville

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Chapters 23-24 Summary and Analysis

Summary
Captain Vere personally informs Billy of the court’s decision. The interview is private, but knowing the character of each man involved, we can guess what took place.

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It is likely that Vere would be totally frank, even admitting the part he himself played in bringing about the verdict. Billy would appreciate with “joy…the brave opinion of him implied in his captain making such a confidant of him.” At the end of the interview, Captain Vere would very likely have allowed himself to feel those fatherly emotions toward Billy which his stoical nature usually concealed.

After the interview, when Vere exits the cabin in which Billy is confined, the senior lieutenant observes that Vere’s suffering appears to be greater than that of the condemned man.

Less than an hour has elapsed since Claggart’s accusation against Billy. In that short span of time, Billy has been tried, convicted, and apprised of his fate by Captain Vere. It is time enough, however, to arouse suspicions among the crew. A warship is like a small village, with rumor spreading rapidly. The seamen are not at all surprised when they are called to the deck for an announcement.

The sea is calm, and a full moon lights the deck wherever it is “not blotted by…shadows…thrown by fixtures and moving men.” The marine guard, “under arms,” lines up on either side of the quarter deck. Vere stands surrounded by his wardroom officers, his manner characteristic of his “supreme position.” Concisely, he tells all—“the master-at-arms dead;…(Billy Budd) tried…and condemned to death;…the execution would take place in the early morning watch.” Captain Vere never mentions the word “mutiny.”

At the end of Vere’s speech, there is a “confused murmur,” which is quickly “suppressed by shrill whistles of the boatswain and his mates…”

Afterward, the body of the master-at-arms is committed to the sea with proper military honors. Propriety is strictly observed, for to deviate from custom would beget “undesirable speculations.”

For the same reason, all communication between Vere and Billy Budd has ended, and the condemned man is beginning the “ordinary routine preliminary to the end.” There are no unusual precautions taken,...

(The entire section is 568 words.)