Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, and literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.

Tommo's Leg Injury

Tommo's leg injury is a major motif in Typee that reappears whenever he feels anxious and worried. The injury appears from unknown causes after Tommo's first night on the island. Initially, the injury reflects Tommo's fear about whether the Typees are cannibals who may want to kill and eat him. His fear is so crippling that it reduces him to a childlike state. It is only after Tommo receives the constant care taking of Kory-Kory that he realizes that the natives mean him well and his leg be gins to heal. While Tommo remains happy amongst the Typees, his leg is not a problem. Towards the end of the book, however, the injury reappears in response to Tommo's fear about the Typees wanting to tattoo him, and also because he finds that they are ca nnibals. The leg injury is a symbolic ailment that always serves more as an indicator of what is happening in Tommo's mind.


The question of whether or not the Typees are cannibals is a major motif in the text. The issue of cannibalism is raised even before the Dolly reaches the Marquesas. At that time, Tommo thinks that it sounds exotic. As the two men descend into the valley, they worry constantly about the possibility of being eaten. Even after they reach the Typees, the question of whether or not the natives are cannibals shall continue to create suspense within the narrative. Ultimately, we shall learn that yes, the Typees are cannibals. Even though they also serve the story thematically, the constant references to cannibalism serve primarily as a device of suspense and plot used to drive the action in the novel.


Sexuality is a subtle motif in the text, but one that plays an important role in the development of Tommo's identity. Initially, Tommo appears to be an asexual creature. When the Dolly arrives in Nukuheva, the crew and the native women join in a scene of wild debauchery, of which Tommo does not appear to be a part. On the ship, sexuality appears foul and licentious. As Tommo enters and becomes a part of the valley though, he is more able to embrace sexuality with a certain innocence. He falls in love with Fayaway. Sexuality and nudity become innocent and pure, as opposed to how they are normally seen in the European/American world. Essentially, the Typee valley represents sex before man's fall from grace. It is still innocent and fresh, with no sinful connotations.