17 Oct 2009

Essays on Typee

In Typee, two shipmates who are both tired of life at sea decide that they will not return to the ship they were on and choose instead to stay on an island that is inhabited by two tribes, the Typee and the Happars.  When the two shipmen, Toby and Tommo, find a valley and begin to descend into the valley, they are greeted by two natives that they hope are Happars.  In a moment of sudden inspiration, they answer Typee when challenged, which is acknowledged by the natives as a proper response.  They have fallen into the cannibalistic tribe of the Typee.  Throughout the book, Toby and Tommo’s desperation to escape from the Typee and return to civilization grows as they become increasingly concerned for their personal well-being.

Typee was written by Herman Melville in 1819.  Herman started his work life at the age of 18, trying many different professions with little success until he began writing.  After signing up to be a shipman on a whaler, Melville used this experience as the basis for Typee, which he wrote due to his family’s need for money.  With the warm welcome of the market, Melville was encouraged to continue writing.  He subsequently wrote many other famous and significant novels including the best seller Moby Dick.

The character interactions in Typee are mainly between the main character Toby and Tommo.  Toby and Tommo are shipmates who have relied upon each other for their very lives aboard ship.  Throughout the story, their interaction is mainly the idea of staying together to try and escape from the Typee tribe without incurring their wrath.  Tommo falls in love with a Typee girl named Fayaway.  Her essence is what originally keeps him from trying to leave the island itself, but with events making it clear their safety may not be ensured, this reluctance is short lived.

Typee has many underlying messages.  Though it is easy to dismiss it as a simple tale of adventure, it also examines many aspects of human nature.  The effect of the relationship between Tommo and Fayaway is a significant example.  Though the situation with the Typee is obviously dangerous, Tommo is strongly tempted to risk everything to be with her.  Human nature is such that we, too, are willing to endure harsh conditions to obtain or maintain something we believe desirable, often to our own detriment.

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