Study Guide

Billy Budd Chapter 9

By Herman Melville

Chapter 9

  • Life's going pretty well for Billy Budd. The other men on the top deck are much lazier than he is, and tend to laugh at how prompt he is to respond to orders.
  • The reason Billy is so on top of things, though, is that he once saw a younger sailor get whipped for a small infringement and vowed that the same would never happen to him.
  • What disturbs him, though, is that he still manages to get in trouble for small things, like not storing his hammock away properly.
  • He tries asking the other men, but they just tease him about it.
  • Now, there's this old veteran aboard the ship, a Dansker (Danish man) who's been around for awhile and knows the difference between up and down, amongst other things.
  • The Dansker had fought for Lord Nelson back in the day and has a big scar on his face to prove it. In general, everything about his appearance suggests that he is a wise and shrewd old man. To give a sense of the awesome description of him, here's a clip: "His wizened face, time-tinted and weather-stained to the complexion of antique parchment, was here and there peppered blue by the chance explosion of a gun cartridge in action" (9.3).
  • When Billy asks him what's up, he tells him that the reason he keeps getting in trouble is because old Jemmy Legs (the master-at-arms John Claggart) doesn't like him.
  • Billy is incredulous and can find no evidence to support such a claim, but the old Dansker won't say anything more.