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Typee

Herman Melville

Chapters 16–18

Chapters 12–15

Chapters 19–24

Summary

Chapter 16

Tommo remains melancholic since Toby disappeared. He feels lonely and his leg still hurts. Tommo also has concluded that he may truly be trapped in the valley. One day at the Ti with the chiefs, they hear a rumor that boats may have once again appeared in the bay. Tommo feels elated, since he thinks that Toby may have returned for him. When Mehevi sees the happiness on Tommo's face, his own expression grows severe. Tommo tries to walk towards the door to see if it could truly be Toby returning, but Mehevi orders him to sit. Kory-Kory tries to please Tommo by bringing him a pipe and some food, but Tommo feels despondent since he realizes that he truly is a captive of the Typees and that there is nothing he can do.

Tommo bundles the clothes that he brought from the ship and starts wearing Typee clothing. Tommo's bundle is tied up near the roof of his hut, with some other packages. One day, Tommo uses his needle and thread to stitch his Typee costume more tightly together. The Typees find this very amusing. He also shows them his razor and ends up shaving the head of Narmonee, a great warrior.

Chapter 17

As the days go on, Tommo's leg becomes much better. With the injury improved, he is able to walk around the valley more than before. But he is never allowed to go anywhere alone. Kory-Kory always comes with him and Fayaway usually does as well. He wants to go see the ocean, but the Typees will not let him. Wandering around the higher sections of the valley, he decides that the Polynesian natives, despite certain disadvantages, enjoy an infinitely happier life than that of the Europeans. While the life may be less intellectual, everything one needs is offered up by nature. Civilization may seem to contain blessings, but for each one it holds more evils. Furthermore, the narrator suggests, even the act of cannibalism, which seems atrocious, could be compared to certain barbaric European acts, such as disemboweling—the act of ripping out and burning a person's insides before their eyes, a practice once common in England. For this reason, it is unfair to call Polynesian natives "savages." Typee natives generally act with more honesty and fairness than Americans do. The narrator never sees anyone quarreling in the community. In fact, given their high level of humanity, it might be more worthwhile for missionaries from the Marquesas to visit America than the other way around.

One day, Tommo is napping at "Ti" when he hears a loud commotion, including a musket being fired. Everyone immediately leaves the area, except Tommo and Kory- Kory. The Typees have gotten into a small altercation with the nearby Happars. The Typees are victorious, save a few minor injuries, and they return home happy in their victory.

Chapter 18

Tommo keeps doing more in the valley as he feels better. One of his favorite activities is his morning bathe with a group of girls. They are amazing swimmers and always get away when he tries to wrestle them to the stream's bottom. He also is allowed to use the canoes, but women are prohibited from doing so, as it is taboo. At Tommo's request, Fayaway is granted dispensation from the prohibition. She and Tommo ride together in the canoe. Tommo later makes her a small dress out of the calico that he brought.

Lying on his mat one day, Tommo hears everyone in the village eagerly shouting about the arrival of someone named Marnoo. Marnoo soon appears. He is a beautiful native man, about twenty-five years old, with striking tattoos up his back. He enters Tommo's house with a cloud of natives around him, all hanging on his every word. Tommo feels slightly jealous that Marnoo is getting the attention usually given to him. Tommo cannot understand much of what Marnoo says, but after a while Marnoo turns and addresses him in English. Marnoo has "taboo" status on the island, which means he can travel through the different tribal sections without being accosted. As a boy, a ship captain took him to Australia where he learned English. Tommo starts asking Marnoo about Toby and the possibility of escape. Mehevi and the other chiefs soon enter the hut, though, and become angered at Marnoo and Tommo's interaction, since they know it relates to Tommo's leaving the valley. Marnoo stops talking to Tommo and, soon after, he leaves, much to Tommo's disappointment.

Analysis

Tommo finally starts to relax into the pleasure of life in the valley. As he does so, the obvious happens—his leg injury gets better! With a healed leg, Tommo is able to see and enjoy the valley as never before. He can walk wherever he likes. He can bathe each morning with a group of half-naked girls. He and Fayaway can enjoy intimate moments as they glide around the lake in a canoe.

The text becomes much more sexually charged as Tommo warms-up to the Typee ways. Perhaps you may not find it so sexually overt, since we currently live in a climate of open, televised sexuality. But for his contemporaries, Melville's description was extremely racy. His readers in England and America lived according to the modest decorum of the day. Women wore blouses and shirts that covered their entire bodies. Sex was never openly discussed and sexual innuendoes were considered highly inappropriate and even sinful. To such an environment Melville introduces half-naked girls under lush, tropical groves. Paul Gaugin later would capture similar scenes in his paintings of Tahiti. (Gaugin actually settled on the Marquesas as well.) Melville's account of wrestling half-naked girls to the bottom of a stream may not seem pornographic today, yet it was highly suggestive given the norms of his day.

Given the very sexual nature of these descriptions in mid-19th century America, it is no wonder that readers were appalled. Many sections in the above chapters were heavily edited in the "Revised American Edition" that surfaced several months after the initial edition. For example, Melville originally writes that he and Fayaway sat in the canoe "on the best terms possible with one another." To us today, the phrase "being on best possible terms with one another" seems to say nothing. For its time, however, it strongly suggested sexual contact. This line was also cut from the "Revised American Edition" in one of the many efforts to cut down on the book's raciness.

The character of Marnoo also exudes sexual energy. When Marnoo arrives, the young girls who normally hang around Tommo start to hang around him. Tommo actually feels jealous. Yet, Marnoo's physical beauty and striking noble dignity compels him as well. The perfection of his limbs and profile remind Tommo of classical art sculptures. Marnoo's brown hair, which falls in ringlets around his face, is utterly transfixing. Whether or not Tommo himself feels sexually attracted to Marnoo is debatable (many critics say he is), but what is truly noteworthy is the fact that Marnoo represents a highly dignified native person, yet this dignity is closely linked with his sexual energy. Melville's willingness to include sexuality in a definition of nobility is noteworthy because it differs from the mores of his times. In a climate where sexuality was considered sinful, most noble American and European leaders were not praised for their sexual energy. By respecting Marnoo while simultaneously acknowledging his sexual appeal, Melville redefines the nature of nobility to include sexual desires. Melville's praise of open sexuality was extremely controversial for his time.

Melville's condemnation of "civilized" countries reappears in Chapter 17 when he bluntly labels Polynesian natives as superior human beings. Melville proposes that because of their honesty, goodness, and generosity, natives actually are better than the Europeans who call them savages. Their sole sin is that of cannibalism, a sin to be sure, but one that is not so shocking given the comparable barbarity of some European acts. Melville's willingness to excuse cannibalism may seem shocking, even now. We can be sure that it astonished and angered those European readers to whom it was first addressed. Much of that section was edited out of the "Revised American Edition" after it received intense criticism, primarily from the missionaries whom Melville so brutally mocks. Melville's ideas are unique and progressive, but they should be recognized as following in the "noble savage" school of thought previously advanced by Rousseau and Chateaubriand. These scholars also posited that men who lived closer to nature, like the Polynesians, possess a superior quality lost amongst those in "civilization," because the "savage" lives closer to how man was actually meant to be.

Overall, Melville's praise of the Typees should be understood as a commentary on the American world that he left behind. For example, by praising the Typeean lack of money, Melville is reflecting the harsh capitalist world that had so oppressed his family. Unlike the people in New York, where he grew up, the Typees have no debtors' prisons and no "destitute widows with children starving." Melville's focus on the generosity and goodness amongst the Typees perhaps reflects his bitterness at the cold capitalist world that left him nearly starving as a child. For Melville, the land of the Typees, where all children can run free and eat and swim, certainly was a paradise, compared to the world he left behind in upstate New York where he was forced into child labor at the age of thirteen.

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