Billy Budd Chapters 6-8 Summary and Analysis
by Herman Melville

Billy Budd book cover
Start Your Free Trial

Download Billy Budd Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Chapters 6-8 Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Captain Edward Fairfax Vere: the virtuous commander of the
Indomitable

John Claggart: master-at-arms on board the Indomitable, who has a mysterious and disreputable past

Summary
The casual observer of the crew and the activity on board the Indomitable will find little evidence of the discontent and the mutinies spoken of in previous chapters. The commissioned officers behave with equanimity toward the crew. In this they take their cue from their superior officer, Captain the Honorable Edward Fairfax Vere.

Captain Vere is a “sailor of distinction,” as well as a man of nobility. He is a conscientious leader, and an evenhanded, although strict disciplinarian. In contrast to his largely illiterate crew, Captain Vere is an ardent and voracious reader, with wide interests in many varied subjects of study.

At times Captain Vere has betrayed “a certain dreaminess of mood.” A “favorite kinsman,” having taken the phrase from some lines of poetry, has given him the pet name, “Starry Vere.”

Vere possesses many talents and interests besides those pertaining to his naval command. He is a man of firm conviction, not easily swayed by popular opinion. Among his crew and peers he is well liked and respected, although he is not particularly companionable. He is considered undemonstrative and “dry and bookish.”

John Claggart, the master-at-arms, is “sort of chief of police” aboard the Indomitable. At age 35, Claggart is tall, spare, and rather pallid of complexion, which seems to “hint of something defective or abnormal in the constitution and blood.” He is apparently well educated, however, nothing is known of his former life. He might have been English by birth, although his speech has a bit of a foreign accent.

There is a rumor among the crew that John Claggart was once involved in a fraud, and that his sea duty is a result of his criminal past. Indeed, at that time the British navy was known to welcome men who were fleeing from some scandal or other in civilian life.

When Claggart entered the service, he was assigned, as a novice, to “the least honorable section of a man-of-war’s crew.“ He quickly advanced to the position of master-at-arms.

Analysis
Despite pointing to Vere’s many exemplary qualities, Melville also emphasizes his “settled convictions.” Vere’s rigid...

(The entire section is 568 words.)