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Billy Budd

Billy Budd

by Herman Melville

Philosophical Viewpoints Quotes Page 3

How we cite our quotes:

Quote #7

[The Surgeon:] "It was phenomenal, Mr. Purser, in the sense that it was an appearance the cause of which is not immediately to be assigned." (26.7)

The surgeon here argues that one cannot discern the cause of Billy's body not twitching. Does the fact that the cause is not scientifically known mean that you cannot try to interpret the phenomenon? What other types of phenomena have no scientific cause in the novel? How is the reader expected to deal with them?

Quote #8

Upon sailors as superstitious as those of the age preceding ours, men-of-war's men too who had just beheld the prodigy of repose in the form suspended to air, and now foundering in the deeps; to such mariners the action of the seafowl, though dictated by mere animal greed for prey, was big with no prosaic significance. (27.5).

The narrator here describes what the sailors read into the fact that all the seafowl gathered around Billy's body. Again, we have a contrast between a natural phenomenon and how the men interpret it. If the men's interpretation is not grounded in fact, then why does the narrator refer to it as "prosaic significance"? Why doesn't he refer to it as "prosaic insignificance"?

Quote #9

[Captain Vere:] "With mankind," he would say, "forms, measured forms, are everything; and that is the import couched in the story of Orpheus with his lyre spellbinding the wild denizens of the wood." And this he once applied to the disruption of forms going on across the Channel and the consequences thereof. (27.6)

These are Captain Vere's thoughts surrounding the importance of military form. He applies them after Billy is executed. The men begin to murmur, and he has the boatswain call them back to duty. How are the character's behaviors restricted by form throughout the novel? Zoom out for a moment: How does the narrative form effect how we read and interpret the story of Billy Budd?

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