Study Guide

Billy Budd Chapter 23

By Herman Melville

Chapter 23

  • From the moment when Claggart and Billy entered Vere's cabin up to the present, only an hour and a half has passed. Yet it has been enough time for the crew to become suspicious and, when a meeting is called, they are prepared to hear extraordinary news.
  • Vere appears before them, and tells them that the master-at-arms is dead, and that the one who killed him has been sentenced to death by a court and will be hung in the morning. He states everything very directly and nowhere makes mention of the word mutiny.
  • Vere could give a little lecture on discipline, but he thinks that in the present case the degree of discipline being effected is pretty clear from the details of the case.
  • The men listen in dumb silence, but then a murmur picks up.
  • A shrill whistle goes up, and they prepare Claggart's body for burial. They follow all military customs strictly as military men are "the greatest sticklers for usage" (23.6).
  • Also in accordance with tradition, Vere does not go see Billy again after their interview. Up until the moment he dies, only the chaplain is allowed to hold conference with him.