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Typee

Herman Melville

Chapters 9–11

Chapters 5–8

Chapters 12–15

Summary

Chapter 9

The narrator picks up on Toby's enthusiasm at finding natives, and he temporarily forgets his fears about meeting cannibalistic savages. Their descent into the valley is difficult, though. Soon they come across an enormous ravine from which there is no path down, only a crashing waterfall. Toby determines that the only way down is by swinging on the thick roots of the plants that wind down the sides. Toby starts by grabbing one and transferring to another. The narrator is apprehensive as he is heavier than Toby, but he uses the roots to descend nonetheless. Except for a few moments when the roots give way and the narrator panics, all goes fine. At the bottom though, there still is another wall of rock to descend. They get down, as per Toby's instructions, by jumping directly onto a tree below them and end up getting caught in its branches. Toby manages to get out first and then the narrator frees himself. They now are fully in the valley.

Chapter 10

The valley appears to be uninhabited, but the two men move tentatively since they do not want to meet the natives. As they wander, they finally come across a natural fruit tree, called "annuee." They are overjoyed and quickly shovel many of these fruits into their mouths, even though they are particularly decayed. A few moments later, the narrator sees a stalk of breadfruit and realizes that someone must have just placed it there. They walk a short distance further and see two natives standing just a bit off in the woods. They cannot tell if they are Typee or Happar, but they feel that it is too late to stop now. The narrator takes the calico out from his shirt and approaches the natives.

The natives—a young boy and a young girl—look alarmed upon seeing them. The narrator uses his limited Polynesian to talk to them. He and Toby also start pantomiming that they need food. The narrator asks them if they are "Happar" by saying "Happar" and the words for "Good", the natives look surprised at this but they smile, so Toby and the narrator feel that they are amongst the Happars. When it begins to pour rain, the natives let the men follow them into the village for shelter.

The group of natives stands in the village staring at them and everyone seems slightly tense. The narrator tries to give one of the chiefs some tobacco, but he will not take it. The chief then asks him "Happar" or "Typee" and the narrator feels stunned for a minute, knowing that he is being asked to choose and could lose his life if he chooses wrong. He answers, "Typee" and then adds "Typee…Good". The natives around erupt in laughter and life. They all start talking and asking him questions. He says that his name is "Tom", but since the natives cannot pronounce it they call him Tommo. They have no trouble with "Toby." The chief introduces himself as Mehevi. After an hour of such conversation, Mehevi realizes that they are hungry and gets some breadfruit mash—the common native dish called "poee-poee"—for them to eat, as well as some native dishes. The natives ask them questions until a time that must be well after midnight, but eventually the men are placed in a hut on some mats and are able to sleep.

Chapter 11

When Tommo wakes, it is broad day and a group of young girls are sitting around him, almost making him uncomfortable in their familiarity. Mehevi soon appears. Intricate tattoos cover him and he wears fine native gear, such as a necklace of boar tusks. Mehevi eagerly jumps into conversation about French people and other subjects, which Tommo manages to handle despite his limited language skills. When Mehevi notices the swelling on Tommo's leg, he summons a local healer. This healer abuses the injury with a wooden hammer, before placing some healing herbs on it. Mehevi then appoints a man from the house, Kory-Kory, to be the narrator's servant and he leaves.

Kory-Kory is about twenty-five years old, moderately tattooed, and has a bizarre hairstyle with two large tufts of hair growing out of an otherwise shaven head. Kory-Kory's father, Marheyo, also lives in the house as does his mother, Tinor, a hardworking woman who is an expert at preparing "poee-poee", or a breadfruit dish. Some other young men and women also live there, but most notable is Fayaway, a beautiful young woman who captures the narrator's heart. The narrator finds Fayaway to be the loveliest women in Typee, with long brown hair, olive skin, and blue eyes. He sees her as a virtual child of Eden.

Analysis

Toby and the narrator, who can now be called Tommo even though that is not his true name, finally have come into the heart of the valley. Their descent took much physical effort and their physical struggle has symbolic significance as well. In getting from the boat, to the mountain, and into the valley, the men have moved from European civilization into a Polynesian world. Since the Polynesian valley is a virtual Paradise, this move requires not simply physical steps but also a psychological preparation to enter a culture that exists in a purer state than European civilization. As such, the motif of childhood and regression continues as Toby and Tommo make their descent. Many critics have found their scaling down the lush ravine to contain an especially symbolic effect, comparing the act of descent to that of re-entering a mother's womb. This ravine itself physically resembles female genitalia; by carefully climbing down it, the men enter the womb of the Typee valley. The idea of being at the original point of birth (a mother's womb) exists on a general spectrum—as the valley is Paradise, Tommo and Toby must return to the theoretical womb of humanity, to what humans were first meant to be before they contracted the complications of civilization.

Aside from the symbolic meaning of the descent, the scene is also a great one from an adventure book. Their amazing actions would fascinate readers in far off lands. They are swinging from vine to vine and some of the vines occasionally slip, leaving them dangerously dangling over a precipice. They see crystalline cataracts and jump off a cliff onto a tree that will break their fall. The difficulties of their descent intensifies the suspense of their actions. As they go down, the crucial questions still remain—Typee or Happar. The suspense of this question continues all the way until chief Mehevi himself asks it of Tommo. Tommo instinctively changes his mind and answers "Typee" and it is a good thing that he does. Instead of meeting an unknown fate for supplying the wrong answer, he is immediately offered open hospitality by a group of friendly Typees. The suspense of the Happar-Typee question has been resolved, but much puzzlement still remains. What will happen to Tommo and Toby now that they are with the Typees? And why are the Typees acting with such hospitality when they are supposed to be brutes? A great many questions still remain unanswered and these further propel the suspense of the plot, even after the remarkably suspenseful descent that led Tommo and Toby to the village in the first place.

The characteristics of the natives that Tommo and Toby meet all continue the metaphor of paradise. The first natives that Tommo and Toby see are a young boy and girl—perhaps the most classic form of Paradise, two young, almost naked bodies, nearly in the form of Adam and Eve. The loveliness of Fayaway continues to perpetuate the idea of a perfectly formed female figure. Tommo dwells heavily on Fayaway's physical person, with her blue eyes, dark tresses, and olive skin. Fayaway shall represent the most innocent and pure of all the Typees. She is the virtual child of Eden whose relationship with Tommo will draw him closely into the paradise of the Typee valley.

Mehevi, as well, is a classic figure from a nearby perfect world. Mehevi embodies the "noble savage." He is a native, what Europeans could call "savage," but he possesses an innate form of nobility. Although he lacks the trappings of civilization, the high quality of his personality is evident. Mehevi's dignified leadership in this valley of Paradise embodies true humanism and grace, even though Europeans broadly categorize all natives, including the noble Mehevi, simply as barbarians.

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