Study Guide

Billy Budd Chapter 26

By Herman Melville

Chapter 26

  • Several days later, at mess, the purser comments to the surgeon that it was remarkable that Billy's body did not twitch after the initial hanging.
  • He says, "What testimony to the force lodged in will power" (26.1).
  • The surgeon calmly explains that he himself arranged the hanging, that muscle spasms are irregular and cannot be attributed to the will power.
  • The purser asks if it was not phenomenal (in a folk sense, meaning remarkable), and the surgeon replies that indeed it was, though in the scientific sense, meaning that something appeared whose cause could not immediately be traced.
  • The purser presses the point and asks if Billy died by the halter or if a sort of euthanasia took place. The surgeon says that euthanasia has no authenticity as a scientific term, and quickly withdraws from the mess hall.