Skip over navigation

Typee

Herman Melville

Chapters 19–24

Chapters 16–18

Chapters 24–26

Summary

Chapter 19

Mehevi and the other chiefs seem slightly angry at Tommo after Marnoo leaves. Even Kory-Kory appears to bear him a small grudge.

Tommo now has been in the valley for about two months and his leg feels so well that he moves around easily. One day he makes a small "pop-gun" out of bamboo for a six-year old boy, which shoots items out when one blows on it. The boy is fascinated. Soon after, groups of men and women appear and beg Tommo to make more. He does so, and they all run around like children playing with the guns. Their excitement continues for almost ten days.

Tommo stops wearing the shoes that he brought from the ship and he ties them in his bundle near the roof. One day Marheyo suggests interest in them and Tommo gives them to him. Marheyo starts wearing the shoes on a strap around his chest, as a bizarre necklace.

The Typees do not work very frequently, but one task with which most women assist is the making of the cloth, or "tappa." Tappa making involves boiling branches from trees and stretching fibers. The process is described in full.

Chapter 20

In order to best describe Typee life, the narrator profiles a typical day. Usually, they wake late, after the sun is up. Then they rise and bathe in a nearby refreshing stream. A light breakfast is enjoyed and then pipes are smoked. After breakfast, people tend to whatever they like. Tinor inspects her cloth and food supplies; Marheyo works on his hut; the girls adorn their hair and skin with oils. The narrator usually wanders with Kory-Kory or else sits inside. Then they enjoy a midday nap. Usually in the afternoon, the narrator goes to the Ti, where Mehevi and the other chiefs gather. Since women are not allowed in the Ti, it resembles a happy bachelor pad where the best food can be found and where the men sit around smoking and talking. After night falls, a light evening meal of "poee-poee," cooked breadfruit, is eaten. Native girls often dance around their huts under the moonlight. Everyone then sleeps. In general, life with the Typees resembles a continual gentle slumber, with activities in between.

Chapter 21

The valley also contains a medicinal spring far from any dwelling. It is called "Arva Wai" which means "strong waters." The narrator thinks that it tastes unpleasant, although Marheyo frequently drinks it. Near the spring stand large, finely constructed terraces of stone, apparently having once been arranged by the ancient island dwellers. The narrator feels certain that men have lived on the island for thousands of years and that they once arranged these stone terraces for the purposes of religion.

Chapter 22

Tommo visits the Ti everyday to spend time with Mehevi, since the Ti is one of the best places to be for good conversation and the best food. One day, Tommo senses great commotion around the Ti and learns that a large festival will take place on the following day. Pigs are being caught to be roasted and many calabashes of poee-poee are being prepared. After asking for the meaning of the festival, Kory-Kory takes him to the Taboo grove and points out a large pyramidal structure that has been made of calabashes and empty coconut shells. Tommo still does not understand the meaning of the festival, but he decides to call it the "Feast of the Calabashes."

The following day everyone dresses in his or her finest attire. To honor the holiday, Tommo too dresses in a Typee style costume of white tappa and adorns himself with flowers.

Chapter 23

The whole population of the valley has gathered at Ti for the celebration. Poee- poee, green breadfruit, cooked pork, and fresh bananas abound and everyone eats their fill while smoking and drinking "arva," a local intoxicating brew. On the second day of the Feast, Tommo sees some wailing women and learns that they are mourning the loss of their husbands who have been slain in battle. Drumming takes place all day while priests chant monotonously over religious idols in the Hoolah Hoolah ground. The Feast continues the next day as well and ends at sunset. Tommo decides that European and American feasts pale in comparison to the Feast of the Calabashes.

Analysis

As Tommo starts to change and settle into life with the Typees, the narrative starts to change as well. Previously, the chapters moved quickly as he and Toby wandered the island. Now the story has slowed, just as Tommo's own actions have slowed. Furthermore, while some suspense still exists, since it is still possible that the Typees are cannibals, Tommo's minimized lack of concern over his fate minimizes the dramatic suspense in his tale. Since Tommo is not thinking about being eaten, we are not thinking about the Typees eating him. With all his sleeping, bathing, and eating, Tommo has given himself over to the visceral pleasures of life. His new lifestyle brings a shift in his narrative because he has far less of his own life to describe. Instead, he starts to describe the lives of the people around him. As he emphasizes with the Typee culture, he no longer becomes the primary actor in his own tale.

Tommo's willingness to describe the Typee culture testifies to his increased comfort while living with them. Not only has he relaxed amongst them; he now finds their daily practices interesting and important enough to describe them for other people. While Tommo's mind once was filled with concerns over being killed, he now takes time to consider the history of dwellers on the islands. Tommo's long accounts of making tappa and poee-poee engender a certain respect towards the actions he describes. If making tappa cloth were boring and not skilled craft, it would not be interesting to describe it. As Tommo details the culture around him he provides his readers with fine anthropological images.

Charles Murray, the British publisher of Typee, placed the book in the "Home and Colonial Library" series, a collection whose purpose was to profile cultural life in colonial lands. Since Murray's readers were expecting cultural description, Melville was obliged to offer some up, which he begins in this section by presenting lengthy, detailed passages about unique cultural events. The most imagistic event in this section definitely is the Feast of the Calabashes. Melville revels in profiling this three-day feast and ritual, using all the skills of his rich descriptive style. Melville's imagery alone provides an instructive and entertaining anecdote, even though it is not related to the novel's immediate plot. For readers who are unaware with this part of the world, the sheer description itself is entertaining because these cultural practices are so different from those practiced in Europe.

In an effort to bolster his credibility as a cultural reporter, Melville did research on Polynesian culture from sources aside from his own experience. He read as many sociological texts as he could find on the South Pacific as he was writing his book. Many of these lengthy descriptions of culture and ritual could very much be from accounts that Melville read, as much as sights that he experienced. Furthermore, although there is no evidence that Melville intentionally misinterpreted cultural practices simply to grab readers' attention, it is entirely possible that he did. Later anthropological studies show that Melville did not interpret all cultural practices entirely correctly, likely because he did not understand the language. As evident in this section though, Melville usually fully admits his own ignorance on matters of which he is unaware, such as what the purpose the Feast of the Calabashes serves. Melville's style reflects an attempt at objective ethnography, long before the formal study of modern anthropology truly began.

More Help

Previous Next

Readers' Notes allow users to add their own analysis and insights to our SparkNotes—and to discuss those ideas with one another. Have a novel take or think we left something out? Add a Readers' Note!

Follow Us