When Billy, a handsome, unpretentious, stuttering young able-seaman, is falsely accused of inciting mutiny, he lashes out, kills his accuser and is condemned to die. Written in allusive and beautiful prose, many-layered, resonant with ideas and meanings, Billy Budd has inspired drama, films and opera and continues to elude interpretation.
The main theme of the novel, however, is generally considered to be the vulnerability of innocence in a fallen world. Billy, a victim of one man’s unnatural hatred, is the embodiment of goodness destroyed by evil, but as “the criminal pays the penalty of his crime”, a greater justice comes into play.
The original source for this text has not been identified. The text has been checked for italics against Harrison Hayford and Merton M. Sealts, Jr., eds, Billy Budd: Sailor (An Inside Narrative) (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962).