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MonkeyNotes-Billy Budd by Herman Melville
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At the outset, the importance of the concept of the Handsome Sailor is explained; he is a universal character with universal appeal. In fact, the author gives details about a Handsome Sailor who was an African. Then Billy is introduced as a Handsome Sailor. He is furthered described as a peacemaker, giving the first image of his Christ-like character. In fact, Lieutenant Ratcliffe says to Captain Graveling, "Blessed are the peacemakers, especially the fighting peacemakers." And Billy can be a fighter, once giving a decisive blow to a fellow sailor. This information about Billy foreshadows a later incident when he strikes a fellow sailor on the Indomitable. Melville clearly establishes that Billy has a temper, and his anger can come quickly when someone deals cruelly with him.


Because of his good nature and his strong ability as a sailor, Billy is respected by both his compatriots and his superiors. He is also portrayed as an innocent, completely accepting his fate. The other sailors on board the Indomitable express their unhappiness over being impressed into service. Unlike them, Billy goes busily about his work without complaint. Because he does not understand the social order on board the ship, he keeps to himself with no air of self-consciousness. His physical beauty also sets him apart.

Billy looks very young--his face nearly "feminine in purity." He is a rustic beauty among the navy sailors, admired by the more intellectual gentlemen, even though he is illiterate. There is also something mysterious about Billy's attractiveness, seeming almost like a Greek god. In actuality, he is called an "upright barbarian," an English noble savage. He seems to be a reflection of Adam, minus the Fall. His only blemish is his stutter, which rises in emotional moments. Although he possesses many romantic traits, Billy is not the typical romantic hero.

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MonkeyNotes-Billy Budd by Herman Melville
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