Study Guide

Billy Budd Chapter 7

By Herman Melville

Chapter 7

  • It's time to expand on our characterization of Captain Vere.
  • See, for a lot of seamen, all that idle time on the ship can be pretty mind-numbing and boring. But for a guy like Captain Vere, it's great because he's something of a closet intellectual (though perhaps not even in the closet) and always brings a small library on any given voyage.
  • He reads from both the moderns and the classics, and is even interested in off-beat figures like Montaigne (a French guy who blew open the concept of what it means to write a personal essay).
  • His bookishness puts some of the men on their guard, and they think that maybe he's a bit of a snob, that he's just a bit of "the King's yarn in a coil of navy rope" (7.3).
  • When Vere makes obscure allusions, though, you have to understand that it's not out of any pretension or meanness of spirit. For a guy with a mind like his, that's just how he speaks.
  • For the men, though, "their honesty prescribes to them directness, sometimes far-reaching like that of a migratory fowl that in its flight never heeds when it crosses a frontier" (7.4).
  • Read that again if it didn't knock your socks off the first time. It's pretty bomb, yeah?