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Typee

Herman Melville

Chapters 31–33

Chapters 27–30

Chapters 34–Toby's Escape, the Sequel

Summary

Chapter 31

Each night before the Typees go to bed, they chant together. This chanting can last for several hours and everyone in the household is involved. Tommo never learns exactly what purpose this chanting is supposed to serve. He assumes that it is part of a Typee religious ritual. Even though they chant, however, the natives do not sing. The first time Tommo sings for Mehevi, Mehevi appears enchanted. The Typees are musical in other ways though. Some play a small flute that makes sound with air coming from the nose. Fayaway is a particularly gifted player of this flute.

Sometimes Tommo pretends that he is boxing with people in order to entertain the chiefs. One day, Tommo sees a Typee mother teaching her young baby how to swim. He then realizes why Typees all are such good swimmers. They start as soon as they are born.

The narrator then describes the technique for making the coconut oil that Typee women rub into their hair each day to make it luxurious. He greatly admires their tresses.

Chapter 32

After everyone starts badgering Tommo about getting tattooed, he feels alone and melancholy once again. His leg injury also painfully returns. He now has been with the Typees for about three months. One day, while in this unhappy frame of mind, he returns home to find Marheyo and some other men examining a package that normally is tied to the inside roof. Tommo previously wondered what was in that package. Now he sees that it holds three shrunken human heads, shriveled and preserved. Two of the heads are native, but one is European. The men quickly rewrap the packet and Kory-Kory starts promptly offering excuses. Tommo knows what he saw however. He again starts considering his fate, since if the Typees killed that white man they might kill him. Furthermore, Tommo wonders whether the head actually belongs to Toby, but he did not look at it long enough to know whether it was Toby's.

About a week after seeing the heads, another fight with the Happars breaks out. Tommo remains in the village as the warriors all rush off. Sometime later, some injured Typees return carrying the bodies of several slain Happars. These bodies are deposited at Ti by the royal Mehevi. The other Typees surround the bodies and everyone is in an uproar. Tommo feels excited to see what will happen, but suddenly Kory-Kory touches his arm and indicates that they are going home. Tommo gestures that he does not want to go. Another fearsome looking chief, Mow- Mow, who lost one eye in a battle, angrily indicates that Tommo must leave. Kory-Kory and Tommo go. Back in the village, Tommo keeps trying to find out what is happening, but Kory-Kory watches him closely and he is not allowed to know.

The next day everyone is in a festive mood. They walk and dress up in fine clothing, as they did for the Feast of the Calabashes. They all head towards Ti, but Tommo must stay home with Kory-Kory despite his efforts to do otherwise. Later in the day, he observes that everyone has returned home explaining that the feast was not for them. He then decides that, as he had heard earlier, it is the custom for the chiefs to eat the bodies of the slain enemies, not for everyone to do so, and this likely is what they are doing now.

Tommo has to wait until the middle of the next day to visit the Ti. He finds nothing out of order, but sees a vessel in the center of the square. He manages to shift the lid of the vessel enough to get a glance. Inside, he sees a partially eaten body. The chiefs start wailing "taboo," but Tommo knows what he saw. Now that he is sure that the Typees are cannibals, he thinks more about escape.

Chapter 33

Marnoo returns to the valley amongst great fanfare. When Tommo gets a chance to talk to him, he again suggests his desire to escape. Marnoo tells him to sneak away while the Typees are sleeping. If Tommo takes a particular path, he shall get to where Marnoo lives and Marnoo will bring him to Nukuheva. Marnoo will warn the other natives that he may be coming. Marnoo whispers these instructions quickly and then speaks to the chiefs so as not to arouse suspicions. When Marnoo leaves, Tommo watches the path that he takes so that he can follow it later.

Tommo cannot figure out how to flee during the night, however. Several people sleep on his mat with him and everyone wakes when someone leaves the hut because the door is fastened tightly and makes a loud sound when opened. Tommo resolves to get up first in the night and to open the door in order to drink water that is kept right outside. Then he will get back into bed, but leave the door open. When everyone falls back asleep, he will flee. He tries this plan multiple times, but it always fails as someone keeps shutting the door. He then does not know what to do and feels distressed.

Analysis

The plot starts to thicken again here after one more descriptive chapter that simply talks about random cultural activities by the Typees: household chanting, swimming babies, and nasal flutes.

The threat of tattooing persists, but Tommo soon finds another thing to focus his energies on: escape. Tommo's desire to flee seems clearly motivated by the idea that the Typees are cannibals. Still, the issues of tattooing and its effect on Tommo's identity equally propel Tommo's desire to leave. Long before Tommo even witnessed the heads or the half-eaten body, his leg injury, the sign of his mental woes, returns and begins to cripple him. The reappearance of this injury indicates a full return of Tommo's skepticism. Although he has enjoyed living with the Typees, he now shall forget their kindness to him and simply plan to escape.

Melville's inclusion of three shrunken human heads and a half-eaten body certainly is meant to shock and excite his readers. Here is the exotic stuff that finely written adventure novels are made of. Here are images that shall send shivers down the spines of respectable Europeans and Americans and which might give their children nightmares. The sighting of the body and the heads belong strongly to the realm of fiction. It seems likely that Melville felt the need, as a storyteller, to get the plot moving again by throwing in a dramatic twist, regardless of whether he actually witnessed such events himself. Three shrunken heads and a half-eaten body certainly will re-ignite suspense. A few critics have suggested that Melville brings on his ending too quickly and too dramatically to be fully credible. Perhaps we might feel the same way, since the plot has been recently plodding along with cultural description. Still, Melville must bring his tale to a closure and this certainly will get it underway.

As Melville returns to the idea of cannibalism, he seems to contradict some of his previous ideas on the high character of Typee culture. In an earlier chapter, Melville argued that although the Typees are cannibals, such cannibalism is not necessary such a shocking thing, since Europeans have been equally savage. With Tommo's sudden turn of events, Melville suggests that cannibalism is, in fact, just as shocking as Americans imagine it to be. Melville's philosophies and Tommo's current behavior contradict one another. Although Tommo, as the narrator, has been voicing Melville's complex ideas on the native world, it seems that he has not truly believed them. Tommo, like most Americans, feels immediately repulsed upon learning of the Typee's true culinary behavior. Tommo appears unfaithful as he immediately forgets the Typees kindness to him and only condemns them. They are cannibals! He no longer preaches an ethic of high-minded acceptance and equality, he simply wants to get away.

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