- Billy Budd- He is a bright-eyed, twenty-one year old forewoman of the British Fleet. An orphan, he is tall, athletic, friendly, innocent, and helpful. He is a loyal friend, and a fierce fighter. All the officers like him except for Claggart.
- Claggart- The Master-at-Arms that is envious and jealous of Billy Budd. He is out to make Billy's life miserable and is the cause of Billy Budd's execution.
- Captain Vere- The Honorable Edward Fairfax Vere is a bachelor of about forty. He has a nickname of "Starry Vere." Captain Vere is forced to execute Billy Budd though he knew of his innocence. But nevertheless
- Dansker- A veteran sailor who has taken a liking to Billy Budd. Tells Billy that Claggart doesn't like him. He is also one of the most important members of the crew.
Chapters 1-7, Pages 1-27
The book starts out with the author remembering seeing a handsome man many years ago. He is reminded of this by the Handsome Sailor, Billy Budd. Billy is twenty- one, a foretopeman of the British fleet who impressed Lieutenant Ratcliffe of the H.M.S. Indomitable. Billy leaves his ship the Rights of Man, and joins the H.M.S. Indomitable.
He is received well by the crew and they like him lots. An officer asks him about who his parents are and he reply's that he doesn't know. He was found in a basket hung on a man's door handle in Bristol. Billy seems to be practically perfect, but he does have one weakness. When he is strongly provoked, he is inclined to stutter, or may even become speechless. The author tells us of the uprisings in the British navy. It is later called the Great Mutiny. They sail for the Mediterranean and have an uneasiness about them as they watch for signs of trouble or discontent.
Chapters 8-15, Pages 28-55
Billy had seen the gangway punishment, and was determined that he would always perform his duties well, and that his actions would never cause him to get yelled at. Though he had made that resolution, he was occasionally getting into slight trouble. He is confused by this, and goes to Dansker, who seems to have taken a liking to him. Billy asks him for his opinion, and he says that it is because Claggart doesn't like Billy. That with all evidence to the contrary, he despises him.
The day after the discussion with Dansker, Billy spills soup on the freshly cleaned deck just as Claggart passes by him. Claggart notices that it was Billy that spilled the soup, and only taps him lightly with his rattan. The book seems to say that Claggart has an inborn wickedness in him. Claggart and the Captain seem to be the only two on the ship that can see the unique innocence in Billy Budd. This perception aggravates Claggart's jealously even more.
Squeak has sensed Claggart's envy of Billy Budd, and makes up mean names for him, which he tells Claggart are the sort of things that Billy is saying about him.
A few days after he spilled the soup, someone was trying to wake him by whispering in his ear. They said to meet on a secluded platform on the deck. He hinted to what it was about. It was very vague. When Billy went to meet the mysterious man, he wasn't able to see his face because it was in the shadows, but he could tell that the person was one of the afterguardsmen. The sailor said that there was a gang of men that were impressed into service just as Billy had been, and he wanted to know if Billy wanted to join them. The sailor offered Billy what looked like gold coins. Billy was angered greatly by this, and stutters and threatens to throw the sailor overboard. The sailor is offended and runs away.
Chapters 16-23, Pages 56-94
After the incident with the afterguardsman, Billy tells his friend, the Dansker, some of the details of what happened. Billy doesn't tell the Dansker that it was an afterguardsman, and the Dansker says that Claggart is out to get him. It makes Billy wonder what Claggart has to do with all of it. Billy disregards what the Dansker has told him about