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Billy Budd
Herman Melville




_____ 1. Billy Budd moved from the ship The Rights of Man to the Bellipotent by virtue of

    A. necessity
    B. the King's naval transfer ordinance
    C. impressment
_____ 2. Billy's later problem was foreshadowed by
    A. his attack on Red Whiskers
    B. the appearance of the handsome African sailor
    C. the lack of information about his upbringing
_____ 3. Melville distinguishes Billy from conventional heroes by
    A. showing his distaste for combat
    B. making him a stutterer
    C. eliminating any love interest
_____ 4. Captain Vere had been promoted because of his
    A. brave performance
    B. family's influence
    C. scholarship in the area of naval encounters
_____ 5. Billy's first clue about Claggart's antagonism came from
    A. the Dansker
    B. Squeak
    C. Lieutenant Ratcliffe
_____ 6. Melville describes Claggart's feelings toward Billy as
    A. "an antipathy spontaneous and profound"
    B. "a motiveless malignity"
    C. "the razor edge between love and hate"
_____ 7. One of Melville's most successful devices in Billy Budd is the use of
    A. vignettes, anecdotes
    B. Shakespearean quotations
    C. contrast
_____ 8. When the court questioned Claggart's motive in accusing Billy Vere called it
    A. "God's retribution"
    B. "the silencing of malice"
    C. "a mystery of iniquity"
_____ 9. The chaplain's visit
    A. made no impression upon Billy
    B. brought some fleeting comfort to Billy
    C. enabled Billy to show his innate purity
_____ 10. Captain Vere's last words were:
    A. "Billy Budd, Billy Budd"
    B. "God, find it in your heart to forgive me"
    C. "How like an angel"
_____ 11. Claggart moves swiftly against Billy after
    A. the soup incident
    B. the attempted bribe from the conspirator
    C. Squeak's report
_____ 12. Ironically, upon entering Vere's quarters, Billy expected to be
    A. promoted to coxswain
    B. returned to The Rights of Man
    C. complimented for his refusal to join in the mutiny
_____ 13. Billy's inability to speak when excited led to
    A. Claggart's death
    B. Captain Vere's suspicion of him
    C. his isolation from the crew

14. Though Billy Budd can be read in many ways, basically it's about the confrontation of good and evil. Discuss.

15. Analyze the character of Captain Vere, giving at least two different ways of looking at him. Which do you think is right?

16. What is the role of law in Billy Budd?

17. In Chapter 28, the narrator says Billy Budd lacks "symmetry of form" because it tells the truth. Discuss the form of Billy Budd with reference to this statement.

18. Melville subtitled Billy Budd "An inside narrative." What did he mean by this?

19. Discuss the impact of biblical allusions on the meaning and development of Billy Budd's character.


  1. C
  2. A
  3. B
  4. A
  5. A
  6. A
  7. C
  8. C
  9. A
  10. A
  11. B
  12. A
  13. A

14. In answering this question, you'll first define good and evil in terms of how they're represented in the characters. In Chapters 1 and 2 you get a good picture of Billy as the Handsome Sailor, an outline of his moral qualities, and comparisons with Adam. Chapters 11, 12 and 13 focus on the "mystery of iniquity" as embodied in Claggart. These two figures are the exemplars of good and evil, but the picture is a bit more complicated because Billy's goodness and innocence conceal violence, and Claggart is once (in Chapter 17) compared to Christ, the man of sorrows. You'll then look at the climax of the book, Chapter 19, to see the most dramatic confrontation between good and evil and then at Billy's death in Chapter 25. How does Captain Vere fit into the drama of good and evil? Is Melville's final point that good and evil must both be present in this world? Or does Billy's death indicate that good can rise above evil and attain some divine and eternal redemption?

15. Begin your discussion by presenting the facts about Vere's character that appear in Chapters 6 and 7. As you present the facts on his background and personality, write out the various interpretations these facts are open to. Details you should focus on include his reading tastes, his nickname, his qualities as a leader.

You should explore the way Vere handles himself with Billy and Claggart by looking at Chapters 18 and 19 and particularly at the trial scene in Chapter 21. Make sure you cover such issues as whether you think Vere is insane, how his argument to execute Billy holds up, and what effect his sympathy for Billy has on all overall view of his character. Finally, you should analyze Vere's death in Chapter 28 and go through some differing interpretations of it.

Throughout, you'll want to subtly slant your discussion to highlight your own personal opinion. When you present your view at the end, it should seem obvious you are right!

16. For this question you should explore the issues brought up in Billy's trial scene in Chapter 21. There are several codes of law invoked in the book: Natural Law, the King's' Law, and God's Law at the Last Judgment. Discuss each one in turn and compare their bearings on Billy's case. Vere rejects Natural Law and God's Law and says that only the King's Law applies to Billy and his deed. If you think Vere is wrong, you might show it by describing his death and pointing out ways you would have humanized the law, perhaps by pardoning Billy. You could end your discussion with a more philosophical consideration of whether human law can ever be adequate in a case like this.

17. First look at the overall pattern of the book: the digressions, alternation of short and long chapters, character analyses of Billy, Vere, and Claggart followed by scenes of rapid action, and then the last third of the book, including the trial scene, Billy's powerful and visual death, and the newspaper article and poem that conclude the story. You could say that the book lacks symmetry of form because Melville wanted to look at his situation from so many different perspectives, and he felt that his loose, flexible structure would better convey the complex reality of the themes. Also discuss what he means by "truth" and whether Billy Budd, though a work of fiction, really captures a deeper truth than either a history book or a simply told "symmetrical" novel could. Perhaps you'll want to conclude that, on a fundamental level, Billy Budd does, in fact, achieve symmetry of form in a coherent balance of themes, moral issues, and symbols.

18. The best way to answer this question is to develop three or four meanings of inside narrative and compare each one in turn.

  1. Inside narrative means the story deals with the inside life of one ship. Here you would show how the action is limited to the Bellipotent, and how intense the action becomes when the ship gets separated from the fleet.

  2. Inside narrative refers to the privileged "insider" position of the story's narrator. To address this point of view, you should focus on how the narrator gets inside the minds of characters such as Vere and Claggart, and also how and why the narrator excludes himself from the important meeting of Vere and Billy in Chapter 22.

  3. Inside narrative means it deals with the inner lives of characters. This would be a highly psychological reading of the book, focusing on motives, the secret father-son link between Vere and Billy, and Claggart's sexual attraction to Billy (see Chapter 17). You would consider the psychological symbolism of the major characters, and you might even interpret the book as a study of the inner conflicts of one mind- Billy represents the emotions, Claggart, the sick intellect, and Vere, the power of will.

  4. Inside narrative means inside Melville's mind. This would be a biographical interpretation, construing the book as a hidden story of some conflict within the author himself. For this, you could draw upon the facts of his life as described in this guide's "Life and Times."

19. Billy is directly compared to Adam several times in the book (Chapter 2, Chapter 18), and he becomes a symbol for Christ at his death in Chapter 25. You'll want to begin your answer by retelling the story of Adam's Fall from innocence and drawing parallels between it and Billy's own story. Then you should draw upon the parallels between Adam and Christ and explore how these parallels relate to Billy. Adam and Christ are innocents, but Christ came down to redeem Adam's sin. Is Billy a Christ figure in this way? Explain how he's different from Christ, especially in the scene with Claggart (Chapter 19). You might end your discussion by considering the way in which these allusions turn Billy Budd into a symbolic drama.

[Billy Budd and Typee Contents]


  1. What does Melville mean by the term Handsome Sailor? How does Billy fit the mold? How does he differ?
  2. Who do you think is the most heroic character in Billy Budd? Billy? Lord Nelson? Captain Vere?
  3. Billy Budd is based on contrasting ideas- intellect versus emotion, civilization versus barbarity, law versus passion. Discuss how the major characters embody these ideas.
  4. Why is Claggart so evil? Is there anything good about him?
  5. Who are some of the Greek heroes and gods that Billy is compared to? What do these comparisons tell you about his character?
  6. Do you think Captain Vere makes the wrong decision? How would you have handled Billy's case differently?
  7. Discuss the notion of appearance versus reality in Billy Budd. How does Claggart manipulate appearances? Does Vere understand the difference? Why does he insist on ignoring it during Billy's trial?
  8. Discuss the symbolism of light and dark in Billy Budd.
  9. Choose one major digression and talk about its relevance to the major themes of the book.
  10. How does the historical period affect Billy Budd's fate?
  11. To what extent is Billy Budd about the transition from a simple world to an industrialized society? Which images bring out this theme most effectively.
  12. Is Billy Budd an allegory about the Fall of Man? If so, what is the symbolic importance of each major character?
  13. Talk about the significance of names and nicknames in Billy Budd. Use both the names of characters and ships.
  14. What did Billy mean when he called out: "God bless Captain Vere?" Did the crew mean the same thing when they echoed it?
  15. Discuss Billy's hanging from the standpoints of symbolism, imagery, and characters. What was going through Vere's mind during this scene?
  16. Do you like the old Dansker? What does he stand for?
  17. What impact does the shipboard setting have on the mood of Billy Budd? What impact does the setting have on themes?
  18. Billy's death is discussed both from the point of view of science and supernaturalism. Which view does the narrator agree with- or does he refuse to take a stand? Which do you agree with?
  19. Why did Melville put in a totally distorted newspaper story at the end of the book?
  20. Do you like the poem "Billy in the Darbies" that ends the book? What light does it shed on the story as a whole?

THE STORY, continued

ECC [Billy Budd and Typee Contents] []

© Copyright 1984 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.
Electronically Enhanced Text © Copyright 1993, World Library, Inc.
Further distribution without the written consent of, Inc. is prohibited.

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