Literature Study GuidesTypeeChapters 17 18 Summary

Typee | Study Guide

Herman Melville

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Typee | Chapters 17–18 | Summary



Chapter 17

The narrator loses track of time, and his leg suddenly heals. He explores the area more as he becomes more mobile, but he is always followed by a group of islanders. Despairing of ever leaving, he resolves to banish negative thoughts and dwell on the positive. He philosophizes that the islanders are much happier than most "civilized" societies. Tommo also discovers and ruminates on the fact that the islanders have no form of money, or as he calls it, "the root of all evil." The narrator observes the community living a carefree, healthy, and unconstrained existence. This tranquility is broken only once during this period, when a commotion draws all the warriors toward the Happar side of the valley carrying spears and muskets. Several shots and yells are heard, and a boy comes running back to tell everyone that the Happar have fled. The warriors return with no casualties except for a few injuries, and the village gradually sinks back into its patterns.

Chapter 18

As his health returns, Tommo takes up swimming in a small lake with the young women of the tribe. He is particularly infatuated with Fayaway. He is given a canoe from the bay to paddle around the lake, but the women flee the water rather than be near the taboo canoe. Tommo applies for and receives special dispensation for Fayaway to enter the canoe. The other young women return and spend their time playing in the water while Tommo and Fayaway paddle the canoe and lounge in it.

One day, a stranger named Marnoo visits the village. He is clearly from another tribe, but they welcome him like an old friend. Tommo is extremely confused by the event, because Marnoo makes a point of ignoring Tommo until he has greeted everyone else in the tribe. Marnoo then reveals that he speaks some broken English, as he spent a few years as a boy sailing with an Australian sea captain. Tommo tries to get Marnoo to help him, and Marnoo begrudgingly takes up Tommo's case with the islanders. They immediately react with hostility, and Tommo and Marnoo are only able to placate them slightly. Marnoo leaves before the Typee decide that he is no longer immune to tribal disputes, and Tommo is left alone again.


Tommo continues to make relatively simplistic, but perhaps enlightened for the time, observations about the Polynesians. He notes that they "enjoyed an infinitely happier, though certainly a less intellectual existence than the self-complacent European." He makes an interesting distinction between intellect and happiness, and he goes on to propose that "civilization" does not make a society necessarily happier or provide a higher quality of living.

In his observations, Tommo also expresses some distinctly anti-colonial sentiments. While musing about the gap between cultivated intellect—"[Civilization] may 'cultivate his mind—may elevate his thoughts,'... but will he be the happier?"—he also makes a reference to the destruction and evils of colonization: "Let the once smiling and populous Hawaiian islands, with their now diseased, starving, and dying natives, answer the question."

Tommo crosses the line sometimes into idealizing the culture. He sees only the good, positive, and easy parts of their existence. In reference to the islander children, he observes, "Here you would see a parcel of children frolicking together the live-long day, and no quarreling, no contention, among them." It is unlikely that the entire village lives without quarreling, but Tommo sees them as living a mostly perfect and worry-free existence.

In general, the narrator is much more enlightened when philosophizing than he is in his usual thoughts and attitudes toward the islanders. For instance, earlier in the book, he disdains the use of the term savage but then proceeds to use it in reference to the islanders frequently. In Chapter 17, he compares some of the barbaric European traditions of drawing and quartering, hanging, and other such punishments for criminals with the customs among the islanders of eating the flesh of their slain enemies. He argues that the islanders' traditions are in many ways not as barbaric as many European and American ones.

Tommo's interactions with the islanders vary in attitude and approach. He mostly respects their traditions, but sometimes he interferes in their culture. For instance, when requesting that Fayaway be allowed in the canoe with him, he protests the unfair and unequal treatment of women. Yet, certainly in America at that time, women were banned from various occupations and activities. In this way, though the narrator frequently philosophizes about the differences, strengths, and weaknesses of both his own culture and the island culture, he doesn't always realize the bias of his own viewpoint.

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