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Typee

Herman Melville

Analysis of Major Characters

Character List

Themes, Motifs, and Symbols

Tommo

Tommo, the narrator, is the most fully developed character in Typee. It is through his eyes that everything in the Polynesian world is witnessed. It is with his tone and style that everything is described. The narrator is a young man. He is a true adventurer who is looking for freedom and liberty. Initially it seems that he is just looking for freedom from his oppressive whaling ship, but actually he truly is also looking for freedom from a repressive European/American culture. It is perhaps for this reason that he shows no hesitation in remaining on an island populated by possibly cannibalistic natives. Furthermore, although he is initially apprehensive, he eventually becomes quite opened-minded about the native culture. Tommo's willingness to respect and appreciate the Typees for their nobility and skills differs from most of his American contemporaries who would have dismissed the Polynesians as heathen barbarians.

Although Tommo wants to be a part of the Polynesian world, ultimately he clings too tightly to his identity to truly join the Typees. Tommo suffers from a chronic leg injury that acts up whenever he feels threatened by the Typees. Initially, it acts up because he fears that they might be cannibals. Later, it acts up because he fears that they want him to become part of their culture. When they suggest a tattoo, he remains adamantly opposed. Although he has been willing to wear their clothing and to join in their activities, he is unwilling to mark himself for life as one of their tribe. Tommo's unwillingness to fully become part of the Typee world may seem contradictory with his constant praise of its superiority. Yet, he always remains an open-minded figure, even though he still is a young man struggling to understand himself. Despite his sense of adventure and desire for freedom, he cannot yet truly let go his inborn, historic self.

Mehevi

Mehevi is the supreme chief of the Typees. He is almost the King of the Typees, if such a position existed. As the noble and dignified Typee leader, Mehevi is the best example of the true "noble savage" within Melville's novel. The idea of the noble savage stems from the philosophy of Rousseau, who suggested that men who live closer to nature are superior to men who live in civilization. As the dignified chief of the Typees, Mehevi embodies nobility and gravity. His mere appearance itself demonstrates his refinement. He has a striking profile and bears his stature elegantly. His face is tattooed after the custom of the natives and he usually wears a necklace of boar tusks. Although these trappings may differ from the velvet robes that adorn European kings, Mehevi is no less noble. In fact, he may be more noble. The effective leadership of Mehevi appears superior to the harsh European leaders profiled in the text, since he does not use violence and oppression in order to lead his people. It is Mehevi's innate nobility that commands respect. The other Typees follow his command and move out of his way as he walks. Tommo himself comes to respect him.

In addition to his nobility, Mehevi actually is a very kind character. Although he could theoretically order the killing of Tommo at any time, he is actually one of the nicest people to Tommo. He takes an active interest in Tommo's affairs. He feeds him with the tastiest morsels. Tommo so likes him that he spends almost every afternoon with him in the Ti. Mehevi also kindly grants almost all of Tommo's requests, including giving permission for Fayaway to go in a canoe, letting him visit the ocean on the day that he escapes, and not making him get a tattoo. Overall, one gets a positive impression of Mehevi because of his nobility and kindness. One tends to view him, as the characters do, with respect.

Fayaway

Fayaway is Tommo's love. She is graceful and beautiful, with blue eyes, dewy olive skin, and dark, long tresses that frequently glimmer with coconut oil. Fayaway's every gesture and actions suggests her innocence. Although Tommo is surrounded by numerous lovely, half-dressed maidens, Fayaway's form of beauty and innocence makes her his chosen one. Tommo sees her as a veritable child of Eden. Fayaway essentially is the equivalent of "Eve," to Tommo's "Adam."

While Fayaway plays an important symbolic role with her innocence, her character is never developed. She rarely speaks and her inner thoughts are never shown. She appears kind because she does not act in an unkind manner, yet the motivation behind all of her actions is not clear. We never actually know if she likes Tommo. What she does all day long is never mentioned. The only thing we know about her is that Tommo admires her greatly. She usually appears in the text only when Tommo wants to profile her physical beauty. We may admire it as he does, but we unfortunately shall never know what goes on in her mind. Fayaway will remain for the entire story a symbol, not a strong three-dimensional character.

Toby

Toby is a young quiet man who agrees to accompany the narrator on his adventure. Little is known about him. We are never told what Toby actually thinks. Furthermore, although Toby accompanies the narrator for most of the tale, he rarely speaks. The narrator says that Toby is quiet, that he occasionally smiles, and that he never discusses his history. Most critics see Toby as a two- dimensional character whose sole purpose is to provide a contrast to Tommo. As they adventure together, Toby generally perceives things in an opposite manner from Tommo. When Toby believes that the natives are Happars, Tommo senses that they are Typees. Even though Toby is constantly skeptical, Tommo begins to enjoy himself. Although Toby seems like a perfectly nice person, the limited development of his character makes it difficult to say that we truly know him. He, like many of the other figures, seems to play a primarily symbolic role. He represents the European ideology that Tommo is willing to give up once in the Typee valley. Although Tommo becomes open-minded, Toby does not. Toby remains skeptical as most Americans would be. Toby never opens himself to appreciate the civility of the native life.

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