Literature Study GuidesTypeeChapters 31 32 Summary

Typee | Study Guide

Herman Melville

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Typee | Chapters 31–32 | Summary



Chapter 31

The narrator relates a tradition all of the islanders participate in that he observes in Marheyo's hut every night. This tradition, where the islanders sit together and chant, is one he never learned the significance of. He never observes the islanders making any other kind of music or singing, and they are quite surprised and excited when he sings for them. He notes that the only instruments in the Typee valley are percussion instruments and a small flute. The narrator also observes that babies are taught to swim when still very small. The final observations of the chapter are on the hair care routine of the islander women, who wash their hair in fresh water multiple times per day and then condition it with coconut oil.

Chapter 32

Three months have passed since the narrator arrived in the valley. The islanders still hound him about receiving tattoos. Having become miserable again, he cannot ignore his state of captivity. During this time, the infection in his leg returns.

The narrator describes three strange packages that have been hung over his sleeping area since he arrived in the valley. He has never seen what is inside them, and no one will tell him. One day after returning early from the Ti, Tommo finds a group of people gathered in Marheyo's hut with the packages. They try to stop him from seeing the packages, but he manages to glimpse three human heads—two islanders and one white man. The narrator is horrified and begins to wonder if this fate awaits him. He asks himself, "Was I destined to perish like him—like him perhaps, to be devoured and my head to be preserved as a fearful memento of the events?"

A short time later, another battle occurs between the Happar and the Typee. This time, the Typee warriors come back with a few large bundles tied to sticks, which the narrator assumes are the bodies of slain enemies. Kory-Kory confirms this conclusion. Tommo is forced to return to the hut while a festival takes place over the next few days. He assumes that the festival is a cannibal feast. When returning from the stream one day after the feast, he sees a large covered vessel, and when he looks inside it, he finds the remains of a charred human skeleton. He feels the need to escape with increasing urgency, but sees no way to do so.


In Chapter 31, the narrator presents a miscellany of information about Typee culture. Up until this point he has approached different aspects of Typee life and culture with more organization—each chapter focused generally on a theme (marriage, death, religion, and so on). However, here, he covers musical traditions, chanting, babies learning to swim, and women's hair care all within one chapter. This collection of information creates the mood of a conclusion, the final anthropological section of a book where excess information is covered.

Chapter 32 brings the story back to its original plot and orients the reader regarding the amount of time that has passed (three months). The reader also glimpses that elusive part of Typee culture—cannibalism. Though the narrator seems in previous observations to have come to terms with the cannibal element of the islanders' culture, he changes his opinion quickly when finally confronted with it. He is completely horrified at the practice.

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