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Billy Budd

Billy Budd


by Herman Melville

Billy Budd Questions

Bring on the tough stuff - there’s not just one right answer.

  1. What is the importance of understanding the historical backdrop to the story? What information about the Napoleonic Wars might a fictional story like Billy Budd provide that a textbook would not?
  2. How does the narrator's point of view both shape and distort the way that you interpret the events surrounding Billy Budd's trial and execution?
  3. In his deliberations over Billy's fate, is Captain Vere trying to make a decision between good and evil or between right and wrong?
  4. Do you accept the narrator's explanation that Claggart is fundamentally evil and that he is motivated by jealousy? What evidence do you find for this view? What evidence do you find against it?
  5. What is the role of religious imagery in the story? Why would the narrator constantly be finding Biblical parallels for Billy and for Claggart? How do such comparisons affect the way that you read the story?
  6. Is Vere right in saying that when we try to determine a man's guilt we are only concerned with his actions, and not with his intentions? Is this how the American court system works today?

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