Chapters 26-27 Summary

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Last Updated April 25, 2023.

At 4 a.m., whistles are blown to call all the crew members to the deck to watch Billy's execution. They hurry to the deck, occupying all the available spaces, even the boats and booms, with the topmen lining up the "sea balcony," and the marines occupying the quarter deck. The Captain, positioned at the break of the poop deck, faces forward.

During that period in the navy, executions were commonly conducted from the fore yard, but Billy's execution was different as it occurred on the main deck. The chaplain accompanied Billy to the main deck where he was to be executed. The chaplain interacted with Billy in a way that reflected the true teachings of the Gospel, rather than giving a preachy sermon.

Billy makes his last arrangements and surprises everyone by blessing Captain Vere even though he has a noose around his neck. He speaks confidently and clearly, without any speech impediment, and says "May God bless Captain Vere." This statement has a remarkable impact on the people present. Billy's exceptional physical attractiveness seems to have a divine quality. The crew members react simultaneously and involuntarily by saying, "May God bless Captain Vere."

While the words are being spoken, Captain Vere remains stiff and upright, showing great self-discipline. The command to carry out the execution is given right as the ship is starting to stabilize after tilting to one side. Simultaneously, there is a misty cloud that hangs low in the eastern sky, illuminated by the sun's rays, resembling the Lamb of God's fleece seen in a mystical vision. Against this backdrop, Billy is hoisted up by his halter.

Scientific research has shown that a muscle spasm typically occurs when the body is completely suspended. But to everyone's amazement, Billy's body, illuminated by the morning light, remains perfectly still as it rises upward.

At the instant when the order is given, everything becomes completely silent. The only audible noise is the sound of the sea hitting the ship. The quietness is then interrupted by a peculiar and distant rumbling noise. The command is given to silence the starboard watch, and the boatswain and his assistants use their whistles, which make a sharp and threatening sound. The sailors then quickly scatter and go their separate ways.

Melville goes off on another tangent and tells a story about how the purser and surgeon tried to make sense of Billy's lifeless body that was hanging, but they couldn't come up with a reasonable explanation for why it wasn't moving, and disagree as to if there is any significance in that action.

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Chapters 28-29 Summary