Typee | Study Guide

Herman Melville

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Typee | Chapters 3–4 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 3

The narrator's ship arrives at the island in 1842, where the French have taken control of the islands during the previous weeks. Although they scare the island inhabitants with their weapons, the islanders are still curious about the newcomers. The French parade a horse around the island while the islanders watch in fascination.

With the threat of violence for disobedience, the French have installed king Mowanna as a puppet king over the disparate nations on the island. The French captain has a reputation for brutality among native people.

Chapter 4

The narrator leaves the ship without the captain's permission. Reflecting on the length of whaling journeys, he decides he can't handle potential years on board a ship with a tyrannical captain. He describes the beautiful island scenery and explains the relations between some of the local tribe: the Nukuheva and the Happar get along and the Typees are their mutual enemy. The narrator claims that the term Typee indicates that the tribe are cannibals. The narrator lands on shore and is overjoyed to be off the water. He arrives in time to see the French admiral meet with the local king and take official occupation of the island.

Analysis

In these chapters the narrator reveals his distaste for the European treatment of native peoples in the places they colonize. He doesn't think highly of the French navy captain, whom he accuses of using violence and intimidation toward the islanders. He states that the admiral used "four heavy, doublebanked frigates ... to frighten a parcel of naked heathen into subjection!" He expresses his disdain for forceful colonization, commenting that the French force their rule upon the locals of Nukuheva and that "under cover of a similar pretence, have the outrages and massacres at Tahiti ... been perpetrated."

The narrator argues that it is no wonder that many native groups attack Europeans, since frequently European soldiers slaughter them and burn their villages. He first introduces the Typee, of whom other tribes are terrified, as a violent group that kills Europeans without provacation. He then mitigates this description by explaining that English soldiers slaughter the Typee and burn their homes. He asks, "Who can wonder at the deadly hatred of the Typees to all foreigners after such unprovoked atrocities?"

Melville also points out the hypocrisy of people who fail to reproach the actions of murderous and destructive colonizers, but become impassioned and furious toward retaliatory locals for killing Europeans. In an unusually enlightened attitude for the time, he takes readers to task for using the term savages in reference to indigenous peoples, arguing that none of the peoples that Europeans have encountered are savages, but that "they have discovered heathens and barbarians whom by horrible cruelties they have exasperated into savages."

Additionally, the narrator describes his captain as a tyrant, though toward his own sailors rather than toward the local native people. He rationalizes his breach of contract with his ship by pointing out that the captain had already broken the terms of original contract, thereby nullifying it. The captain, according to the narrator, is an abusive tyrant—and there is no other recourse but to defect.

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