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Typee

Herman Melville

Important Quotations Explained

Chapters 34–Toby's Escape, the Sequel

Key Facts

"How often is the term "savages" incorrectly applied! None really deserving of it were ever yet discovered by voyagers or by travelers. They have discovered heathens and barbarians, whom by horrible cruelties they have exasperated into savages.

The narrator makes this statement at the end of Chapter 4. It summarizes Melville's belief that Europeans misunderstand native culture and label it as "savage," while actually he views natives as being entirely civilized. Melville constantly encourages his readers to be more open minded by appreciating that Polynesian natives, in many ways, are superior human beings to ones who live in civilized cities. The natives treat each other kindly, honestly, and with generosity. They are more peaceful and loving than Europeans. In fact, it is the Europeans and the Americans who truly display brutality and savagery as they colonize the native world. Even though the natives do not share the same religion as Europeans, their differing religious ideas do not mean that they are simply "savages" who should be condemned by the rest of the world.

"I knew that our worthy captain, who felt such a paternal solicitude for the welfare of his crew, would not willingly consent that one of his best hands should encounter the perils of a sojourn among the natives of a barbarous island; and I was certain that in the event of my disappearance, his fatherly anxiety would prompt him to offer, by way of a reward, yard upon yard of gaily printed calico for my apprehension."

The narrator makes this statement at the beginning of Chapter 5. It demonstrates Melville's use of comic irony, which proliferates throughout Typee. Melville has already described the captain as so brute a figure that the narrator is choosing to live amongst possibly cannibalistic natives rather than remain on the ship. Here, Melville is ironic by using kind terms to suggest the captain's cruelty. Instead of being overly repressive, Melvilles describes the captain's desire to keep him as "paternal solicitude." Likewise, the captain cares so much for his crew that he shall even offer goods to keep them aboard. With his language, Melville twists the captain's cruel behavior into comedy, providing an ironic twist.

"I am inclined to think that so far as the relative wickedness of the parties is concerned, four or five Marquesan Islanders sent to the United States as Missionaries might be quite as useful as an equal number of Americans dispatched to the Islands in a similar capacity."

This quote comes in the middle of Chapter 17. With it, Melville argues that the Polynesian natives are just as appropriate as missionaries as Christian ones. This comment is an affront to all Christian believers who think that their faith is the true faith. Melville particularly seeks to ridicule the groups of missionaries who he sees as being so harmful to native cultures. For Melville, many natives live according to the guidelines of Christian conduct better than most Christians, because they fully embrace the concepts of honesty and generosity as Christ says one should. Because natives understand how to be humane to one another, something that many Europeans do not, they should be the missionaries not the other way away. Melville finds the European missionaries less helpful, since they primarily focus on destroying native sexual practices and making natives wear clothes, entirely purposeless endeavors.

"I sought out young Fayaway, and endeavored to learn from her, if possible, the truth. This gentle being had early attracted my regard, not only from her extraordinary beauty, but from the attractive cast of her countenance, singularly expressive of intelligence and humanity. Of all the natives she alone seemed to appreciate the effect which the peculiarity of the circumstances in which we were placed had produced upon the minds of my companion and myself."

The narrator makes this statement in Chapter 14. This passage is notable because it is perhaps the deepest revelation of Fayaway's character in the entire book. But, the point is, the passage is actually not very revealing at all. Overall, Melville fails to develop Fayaway as a real, three-dimensional character. Many critics believe that almost all the characters in Typee are poorly developed. Fayaway's lack of description is perhaps the most striking because she is supposed to be so important to Tommo. Although we know that Tommo loves her we scarcely have any idea of what she thinks of him. Her inner thoughts are never shown. Furthermore, she rarely speaks. Fayaway symbolizes the utmost beauty and innocence in the Typee valley, she is "Eve" to Tommo's "Adam." Still, while we can admire her beauty and lovely face as Tommo does, it is difficult to appreciate the complexity of her inner character because she does not appear to have one.

"Even at the moment I felt horror at the act I was about to commit; but it was no time for pity or compunction, and with a true aim, and exerting all my strength, I dashed the boat-hook at him. It struck him just below the throat, and forced him downwards. I had no time to repeat my blow, but I saw him rise to the surface in the wake of the boat, and never shall I forget the ferocious expression of his countenance."

This quote comes from the end of Chapter 34, when Tommo is escaping from the Typees. He is riding in the small boat with Karakoee and the other rowers when the one-eyed Typee chieftain, Mow-Mow, swims up with a desire to take Tommo back. As explained in this quote, Tommo hits Mow-Mow with the boat hook and is able to get away. The action is significant not just because it ensures Tommo's escape, but also because it is one of the most violent acts in the book. Furthermore, it is committed by the author as he is leaving the peaceful and gentle atmosphere of the Typee valley. The sudden appearance of violence and inner darkness surprises as it emerges to close the book. Does it mean that the narrator has reverted to the violent nature of most Europeans and Americans? Has he inherited a ferocity from the native tribe with which he lived? The meaning is not entirely clear, but it does demonstrate Tommo's strong willingness to leave the valley. Although he does not want to, he shall resort to violence if only to get away.

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