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Typee | Motifs


Tommo's Injury

Tommo's leg injury seems to be representative of more of an emotional or situational state than it is an actual physical injury. The injury comes on just as things begin to look dire for Tommo and Toby after leaving the ship. It worsens as they become hungrier and try to find their way out of the maze of ravines and mountains on the island. When the two are taken in by the Typee, the injury remains crippling for the first month or so that Tommo is there. The physician can't seem to heal it, and in fact the injury itself is never described and its origin remains unclear.

Then, after Toby leaves and when Tommo begins to relax and accept his situation, the injury mysteriously vanishes. Initially, Tommo has a lot of anxiety about what will happen to him while he stays with the Typee, and whether or not he will be able to leave. Then, he begins to see the beauty in the place and people around him, and forgets for a while about trying to leave. This is when the injury suddenly stops bothering him. The injury returns toward the end of the book, after the narrator sees evidence of the tribe's traditions of cannibalism and becomes frantic to leave again. In this way, the injury is more of a manifestation of Tommo's inner fears and anxieties than it is an actual physical injury.


Cannibalism is a recurring motif throughout Typee. It represents the truly "savage" and "uncivilized" aspects of island culture to the narrator. For the most part, the narrator sees the Typee as an idealistic culture, and goes to great lengths to portray civilization as something that ruins indigenous cultures instead of uplifting or improving them. However, cannibalism is something that the narrator can never explain away and represents the darker and more primal side of human nature. The narrator would prefer to do without this aspect of humanity, but he cannot escape it. He tries to idealize it away and gloss over it, but when finally faced with its reality he is horrified. He manages to liken cannibalism to many of the cruel traditions of Europe, such as public hangings and traditions of torture. Indeed, all of these things are illustrating a dark side of human nature that seems to exist, to some extent, in all societies. The narrator wants it to be absent from the tribe that he sees as pure and ideal, but it is present there, too.

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