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Typee

Herman Melville

Chapters 27–30

Chapters 24–26

Chapters 31–33

Summary

Chapter 27

For those interested in how the Typees managed to govern themselves, the narrator notes that he never witnessed anyone put on trial or accused of any wrongdoing. The Typees seem to govern themselves according to common-sense law, almost like an honor code. The narrator never sees a single quarrel during his whole stay in the valley. He thinks that people might get along well because they attach little importance to the idea of ownership. Although some families have larger huts than others (or more calabashes), no one ever tries to purchase land, or to buy a banana tree, as Europeans would. Another striking quality is the general unanimity of most ideas. People rarely argue, it seems, because they always agree with one another. The Typees do not have a culture that hinges on ideological debate. Their social climate is peaceful and always agreeable. With such gentility, it is amazing, the narrator thinks, that Europeans believe these natives to be savages.

Chapter 28

The generosity of the Typees can easily be seen in the way they conduct their fishing parties. The Typees adore fish, but catching fresh fish is not done everyday because it involves natives carefully heading to the ocean. When it is done, however, everyone shares in the bounty. When the fishermen return with their catch, the fish are systematically doled out to the entire community with according to their family size. One night around midnight, the narrator is sleeping when Marheyo wakes him to say that the fish have come. Marheyo heads to Ti to claim his distribution. When he gets back, everyone in the house is roused. A fire is made and other food dishes are prepared. The fish are then eaten, in accordance with the local style—in their entirety, and raw. Even the gentle and beautiful Fayaway grasps numerous small fish in her hand and engulfs them in her mouth. The narrator, although initially repulsed, comes to also eat these raw whole fish and with time, he even comes to enjoy them.

Chapter 29

The Typee valley has dogs in it that resemble large hairless rats. The narrator asks Mehevi to kill some of them, but Mehevi tells him it is taboo to do so. One day, the narrator wakes to find a black domestic cat near him and has no idea how the creature came to live on the island. Many golden lizards do live on the island, but no snakes. There also are no mosquitoes, even though the movement of Europeans throughout the South Pacific has been bringing them to different islands. Beautiful birds dot the landscape and are remarkably tame, often landing on one's arm or shoulder. The sole annoying creature is a small black fly that frequently buzzes in one's face, although it does not sting.

Although it rains frequently, the climate is ideal. It always resembles the months of a European June and July. Because of the congenial climate, coconuts bloom all year round. Young men deftly scale the branchless sides of the coconut trees to pick the fruit whenever they want.

Chapter 30

In one of his strolls with Kory-Kory, the narrator comes across the house of the tattoo artist. A man lies under the artist, in evident pain from the needle pressing into his skin. When the narrator enters the hut to watch, the tattoo artist, named Karky, becomes elated. He gets up and gestures for the narrator to come sit down and be tattooed. Under no circumstances does the narrator want to be tattooed. When Kory-Kory joins forces to get the narrator onto the bench for a tattoo, the narrator physically shoves them out of the way and runs from the hut. Karky and Kory-Kory follow him, but eventually Karky leaves him alone. Sometime later, Chief Mehevi says that Tommo needs to get tattooed. Despite the narrator's extreme distress at the thought of a tattoo, when the subject keeps coming up, he proposes a tattoo to his arms. Mehevi says that will be possible, after they have tattooed his face. Tommo cannot stand the idea of having his face marked. His intense distress grants him another reprieve from the act, even though the natives around him all want it done.

Analysis

This is the last section that proceeds in an anthropological style. Melville's content grows slightly thin here initially, perhaps because he has already covered much of the truly intriguing cultural behavior. Now, he starts to dwell on small hairless dogs, the sight of a black cat, and even on annoying black flies. The most imagistic segments describe the Typees eating small, raw fish—skin, flesh, bones, and head. Even the graceful Fayaway manages to eat a handful with a small flick of her wrist. This description of eating raw fish, many years before Europeans and Americans had heard of sushi, surely was meant both to shock and to entertain. It was a cultural practice that Europeans would be unable to understand. By acknowledging his own participation (and enjoyment of) such fish, Melville again challenges his readers to be open- minded. Even today, though, it may still be hard for Americans to relish the consumption of such fishy spines and gills.

Melville's praise of the native spirit continues with his profiling of their generosity in distributing the fish and of their lack of property. Like his earlier description of the lack of money, Melville seems most impressed by the native spirit of giving, something that is so rare amongst the harsh European and American capitalist systems. Anthropologists later pointed out that Polynesians did have more of a sense of ownership than Melville understood. For instance, the ability to distinguish between what is acceptable and what is taboo allowed chiefs and priests to keep control over their people. Furthermore, the intricate system of tattooing (that Melville himself profiles here), was actually an artful form of social marking. Those individuals with the most tattoos, such as chiefs, had the most status. Melville slightly misunderstands the cultural significance of what he describes, but it this is understandable given his limited stay.

The long description of tattooing starts to shift the narrative back from purely cultural description to a tale about Tommo. At first, the section of tattooing is just another cultural profile. When Karky wants to tattoo Tommo, however, it becomes highly personal. Tommo adamantly refuses to be tattooed. He finds the idea of being marked more threatening than anything. Being tattooed would permanently shift his identity, making him part "native" or "savage," so that he will never be able to return as a true American to an American world. Once marked by a tattoo, he would always be viewed as different. Although he has enjoying living in paradise for this long, Tommo refuses to accept the mark that will make it necessary that he stays. He wants to preserve his identity and his separate self. He is not willing to become a hybrid of native and civilized form, even though he has argued through the whole text for the superiority of native beliefs.

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