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Typee | Symbols



In Typee the character of Fayaway is more symbolic than she is an actual developed character. Her personality is limited to basic characteristics of innocence, beauty, and general amiability. She stands as both a symbol of all that the author found compelling about the island girls (their simplicity and beauty) and as a symbol for the ideal woman generally. Though she is clearly free of the constraints of European and American Victorian women, she still represents personality characteristics commonly idealized for females at the time: virtue, beauty, innocence, and agreeableness. The narrator even describes Fayaway as "the very perfection of female grace and beauty."

Fayaway becomes the narrator's very willing lover, and never seems to contradict him, ask anything of him, or inconvenience him in any way. She is there solely for his pleasure and he puts her on a pedestal as the feminine ideal. He frequently likens her to European ladies in a way that is perhaps slightly humorous, but still very idealizing. He describes her hands as "as soft and delicate as those of any countess," and her feet "though wholly exposed, were as diminutive and fairly shaped as those which peep from beneath the skirts of a Lima lady's dress." In this way, Fayaway stands not only as a symbol of the author's concept of the feminine ideal among the islanders, but also as the feminine ideal generally.


Tattoos are very symbolic in Polynesian culture, and for the islanders of Nukuheva, were a major part of their culture. The narrator sees tattoos as one of the only disagreeable things about the islanders. They are the thing he links with the "savage" part of the culture, and he sees them as ugly and unnecessary markings. Tattoos represent an important part of Polynesian cultural and religious beliefs to the islanders, but to the narrator they are a blemish on a culture he otherwise highly idealizes.

The narrator tends to put the Typee on a pedestal and gloss over the things about them that he doesn't like or agree with, such as the cannibalism, lack of formal education, and so on. The tattoos, however, are a constant and inescapable reminder to him of the parts of the island culture that he doesn't like. Regardless of how much he admires and enjoys some of the island culture, he also likes being an outsider and has no real desire to integrate into the culture. This is made clear by his revulsion with and refusal to be tattooed. Though he likes Kory-Kory, who is highly tattooed, he sees him as "a hideous object to look upon." When the tribe wants the narrator to be tattooed, he reacts with horror and refers to "the odious operation of tattooing."

In a way, tattooing represents something permanent that cannot be taken off to conform to different social norms, and it marks something that cannot be conveniently left behind. The narrator is clearly afraid of being more than a passing observer of island culture, and has no wish for it to leave a permanent mark on him. However, despite his unwillingness to be tattooed, it is also clear that his experience with the Typee is something he will carry with him, whether he wishes to or not.

The Typee

The Typee themselves are symbolic in the narrator's eyes. He views the tribe as a sort of symbol of the ideal native culture, untouched by the pollution of civilization. Unlike the Nukuheva tribe, which has had many dealings with the French and other European traders, the Typee remain pure and untouched in their valley. His long descriptions of their carefree lifestyle, and of their utter lack of conflict, suffering, sickness, and hunger paint a picture of a paradisal place and community. He makes observations about them such as: "so pure and upright were they in all the relations of life." As a result of these types of descriptions, it becomes clear that the Typee are possibly not drawn in a completely realistic way. Instead, for the narrator they serve more as a symbol for the innocence and purity of native cultures before civilization destroys or contaminates them.

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