Study Guide

Typee Quotes

  • Language and Communication

    In several works descriptive of the islands in the Pacific, many of the most beautiful combinations of vocal sounds have been altogether lost to the ear of the reader by an over-attention to the ordinary rules of spelling. (Preface.4)

    Melville was forced to continue this, just by writing the words down. How do you think he felt doing it?

    Over all the landscape there reigned the most hushed repose, which I almost feared to break, lest, like the enchanted gardens in the fairy tale, a single syllable might dissolve the spell. (7.46)

    For a moment here, it's almost like spoken language is something that exists outside of the Marquesas, only out in the "civilized world." Of course that's not true.

    I then uttered a few words of their language with which I was acquainted, scarcely expected that they would understand me, but to show that we had not dropped from the clouds upon them. (10.11)

    What non-Spanish speaker, in a room or nation full of fluent folks, hasn't tried the ol' "No habla Español," (or similar), and then hoped for the best?

    What a transition! The dark figures around us leaped to their feet, clapped their hands in transport, and shouted again and again the talismanic syllables, the utterance of which appeared to have settled everything. (10.25)

    At first, non-verbal gestures are the best way for Tommo and Toby to communicate. What are things you do when you meet strangers, to put them at ease?

    I compromised the matter with him at the word 'Tommo'; and by that name I went during the entire period of my stay in the valley. (10.27)

    A name is something that can signify belonging. Is Tommo being welcomed here?

    This was the vocal telegraph of the islanders; by means of which condensed items of information could be carried in a very few minutes from the sea to their remotest habitation, a distance of at least eight or nine miles. (10.39)

    Before telephones, it took more than two people to have a conversation. How many depended how far apart they were. (What happened if you wanted to tell someone a secret?)

    I could not but be amused at the manner in which the chief addressed me upon this occasion, talking to me for at least fifteen or twenty minutes as calmly as if I could understand every word that he said. (11.19)

    Sometimes this is what it feels like when our smartest friend explains what she's been reading lately.

    [...] they had no word in their language to express the idea of virtue. (17.13)

    This may feel a little harsh, but remember, the idea of virtue might simply be more necessary in societies who are interested in trying to figure out if someone is going to Heaven or not.

    The natural quickness of the savage had been wonderfully improved by his intercourse with the white men, and his partial knowledge of a foreign language gave him a great ascendancy over his less accomplished countrymen. (18.39)

    "Less accomplished"? We wonder if Tommo's being a bit biased here.

    He placed his arm upon my shoulder, and emphatically pronounced the only two English words I had taught him 'Home' and 'Mother'. (34.15)

    Say…this scene reminds us of something. "Home" seems to be a universal word and concept.

  • Friendship

    We had battled out many a long watch together, beguiling the weary hours with chat, song, and story, mingled with a good many imprecations upon the hard destiny it seemed our common fortune to encounter. (5.7)

    Why does boredom bond folks together? We're thinking about you, The Breakfast Club.

     Perhaps I might be obliged to lie concealed among the mountains for weeks. In such an event what a solace would a companion be? (5.14)

    It sounds like Tommo may have just been looking for someone, anyone to talk to.

    I sank down for a moment with a sort of dogged apathy, from which I was aroused by Toby, who had devised a plan to free us from the net in which we had become entangled. (6.21)

    Toby always seems to take the lead when it comes to planning. Do you have a friend like that? Or are you that friend?

    First we divided it into two equal portions, and carefully rolling one of them up for our evening's repast, divided the remainder again as equally as possible, and then drew lots for the first choice. (7.34)

    Friendship sure looks a lot like Communism, sometimes.

    I could hardly credit the evidence of my senses when I saw the wide distance that a single daring act had so suddenly placed between us. (9.35)

    It's like Toby just graduated and Tommo still has another year in school.

    But it seems really heartless in me to write thus of the poor islander, when I owe perhaps to his unremitting attentions the very existence I now enjoy. (11.29)

    What does this depth of emotion, this confession, tell us about the way Tommo thinks of Kory-Kory, now that Tommo has skedaddled from the isle?

    Yes; thought I, gloomily, he has secured his own escape, and cares not what calamity may befall his unfortunate comrade. (14.24)

    Even though our hero says stuff like this, do you think he feels safer doing so with the passage of time, knowing that both of them got to be safe and sound?

    The faithful fellow, twice every day, in the cool of the morning and in the evening, insisted upon carrying me to the stream, and bathing me in its refreshing water. (14.27)

    Oh, to have a friend like Kory-Kory on Monday mornings. Although, does this strike you as friendship, or servitude?

    No language can describe the wretchedness which I felt; and in the bitterness of my soul I imprecated a thousand curses on the perfidious Toby, who had thus abandoned me to destruction. (16.7)

    Oh, maybe he really means it this time. Friends can disappoint us more because we hold them in such high regard.

    'Oh!' said he to me at our meeting, 'what sleepless nights were mine. Often I started from my hammock, dreaming you were before me, and upbraiding me for leaving you on the island.' (Toby.63)

    This is the old version of: "I totes thought you were angry at me because there was no smiley face at the end of your text."

  • Courage

    [...] the deathlike coldness of the place, the appalling darkness and the dismal sense of our forlorn condition, almost unmanned me. (7.29)

    Yes, Shmoopers, even a sailor can be afraid of the dark.

    I for one prefer to chance a bold descent into the valley, and risk the consequences. (8.30)

    Look at that adjective: he prefers a "bold descent," not just any plain descent will do. What do you make of that?

    But we struggled against them manfully, well knowing our only hope lay in advancing. (9.2)

    In Typee and many other places, gendered adjectives like "manfully" say that it's part of a man's job to be tough.

    'Why,' rejoined he, 'as we cannot retreat, I suppose we must keep shoving along.' (9.6)

    Sometimes courage is just another word for "nothing left to lose."

    My brain grew dizzy with the idea of the frightful risk I had just run, and I involuntarily closed my eyes to shut out the view of the depth beneath me. (9.20)

    This is a good look at the sensory experience of fear. It reminds us of that time we tried stand-up.

    Nothing indeed appeared to depress or intimidate this intrepid fellow. Typees or Niagaras, he was as ready to engage one as the other, and I could not avoid a thousand times congratulating myself upon having such a companion in an enterprise like the present. (9.27)

    Toby and Tommo complement each other. They go together like peanut butter and jelly (or peanut butter and chocolate…mmm). Or like a brave, strong person and a 'fraidy-cat, slow one.

    I felt the necessity of rest and shelter, and that until I had obtained them, I should be wholly unable to encounter such sufferings as we had lately passed through. (10.4)

    Tommo needs sleep to get stuff done. We need gallons of high-octane coffee. What do you need?

    'Mehevi hanna pippee nuee Happar,' he exclaimed every five minutes, giving me to understand that under that distinguished captain the warriors of his nation were performing prodigies of valour. (17.29)

    They're off fighting Happar. For the Typee, that's brave. For Toby (as his head wound would show) that's foolhardy.

    Marnoo, that all-attractive personage, having satisfied his hunger and inhaled a few whiffs from a pipe which was handed to him, launched out into an harangue which completely enchained the attention of his auditors. (18.27)

    That's quite a display. Where does confidence give way to courage for a warrior like Marnoo? 

    The fierce looks of the irritated savages admonished me that I could gain nothing by force, and that it was by entreaty alone that I could hope to compass my object. (34.10)

    Sometimes the pen, or what the pen can write down, is indeed mightier. (Just don't tell Mow-Mow that.)

  • Prejudice

    Let us proceed at once; come, throw away all those stupid ideas about the Typees, and hurrah for the lovely valley of the Happars. (4.20)

    The confusion of whether Tommo and Toby are headed for the Happar or not allows us to first experience the Typee without their cannibalism rep. Why do you think Melville might have made that choice?

    The name may, perhaps, have been given to denote the peculiar ferocity of this clan, and to convey a special stigma along with it. (4.21)

    You think you know that character assassination you're always rapping about, Kanye? Wait until someone accuses you of cannibalism. How does this reputation affect Toby and Tommo's interactions with the Typee?

    It was quite amusing, too, to see with what earnestness they disclaimed all cannibal propensities on their own part, while they denounced their enemies—the Typees—as inveterate gourmandizers of human flesh. (4.22)

    Amusing? Sure, it sounds hilarious, right? Come to think of it, though, did you ever notice how other people's pain is way funnier than your own? See: America's Funniest Home Videos.

    Sometimes vague accounts of such things reach our firesides, and we coolly censure them as wrong, impolitic, needlessly severe, and dangerous to the crews of other vessels. (4.31)

    Judge not lest ye be judged, right?

    How often is the term 'savages' incorrectly applied! None really deserving of it were ever yet discovered by voyagers or by travellers. (4.32)

    Interestingly, both Melville and Tommo use the term "savage" pretty freely.

    It may be asserted without fear of contradictions that in all the cases of outrages committed by Polynesians, Europeans have at some time or other been the aggressors, and that the cruel and bloodthirsty disposition of some of the islanders is mainly to be ascribed to the influence of such examples. (4.32)

    What do you think Tommo is really trying to say here? Is he on one "side" or the other?

    'It is impossible that the inhabitants of such a lovely place as we saw can be anything else but good fellows.' (8.30)

    Is all good times and lollipops, though? Can a positive prejudice do harm?

    [...] savage, surrounded by all the luxurious provisions of nature, enjoyed an infinitely happier, though certainly a less intellectual existence than the self-complacent European. (17.5)

    That's quite an assessment. Which values of Tommo's are in evidence here?

    The fiend-like skill we display in the invention of all manner of death-dealing engines, the vindictiveness with which we carry on our wars, and the misery and desolation that follow in their train, are enough of themselves to distinguish the white civilized man as the most ferocious animal on the face of the earth. (17.9)

    So what does it mean for a novel when the narration moves into this kind of rhetorical territory? How do you respond to this commentary as a reader?

    The whole of these proceedings were like those of a parcel of children playing with dolls and baby houses. (24.24)

    Children, eh? Well, that's…a bit offensive. What do you think Tommo gets out of comparisons like these?

  • Women and Femininity

    This gentle being had early attracted my regard, not only from her extraordinary beauty, but from the attractive cast of her countenance, singularly expressive of intelligence and humanity. [...] she alone seemed to appreciate the effect which the peculiarity of the circumstances in which we were placed had produced upon the minds of my companion and myself. (11.11)

    Feeling understood is a tricky proposition, though, especially when you can't understand each other's languages.

    To have seen them reclining beneath the shadows of one of the beautiful groves; the ground about them strewn with freshly gathered buds and blossoms, [...] one would have thought that all the train of Flora had gathered together to keep a festival in honour of their mistress. (17.19)

    Yes, this seems like really legit festival wear.

    Bathing in company with troops of girls formed one of my chief amusements. (18.1)

    Hmm…do you think the girls were part of Tommo's amusement, or was it just the bathing?

    [...] in the absence of the mermaids, the amusement became dull and insipid. (18.5)

    Oh…yeah, never mind.

    I not only wanted the canoe to stay where it was, but I wanted the beauteous Fayaway to get into it, and paddle with me about the lake. (18.5)

    We think Fayaway could have a really bright future in the island tourism industry.

    I was always accompanied in these excursions by Fayaway and the ever-present Kory-Kory. The former, as soon as we reached the vicinity of the Ti—which was rigorously tabooed to the whole female sex—withdrew to a neighbouring hut, as if her feminine delicacy 'restricted' her from approaching a habitation which might be regarded as a sort of Bachelor's Hall. (22.1)

    What do you make of gender-restricted access—for boats, the Ti, and elsewhere in the valley? Tommo never really explains it because he can't really understand what they're saying.

    [...] plurality of husbands, instead of wives! and this solitary fact speaks volumes for the gentle disposition of the male population. (26.8)

    Do you think Tommo is being serious here? What might this say about the nature of the Typee men?

    The religious restrictions of the taboo alone excepted, the women of the valley were allowed every possible indulgence. (27.10)

    Well, that sounds nice, but can indulgences make up for limited freedom?

    Nowhere are the ladies more assiduously courted; nowhere are they better appreciated as the contributors to our highest enjoyments; and nowhere are they more sensible of their power. (27.10)

    Power is an interesting way to put it (for more, check out "Themes: Power"). What kinds of power does the Typee woman hold, in her culture?

    Like so many spoiled beauties, they ranged through the groves—bathed in the stream—danced—flirted—played all manner of mischievous pranks, and passed their days in one merry round of thoughtless happiness. (27.11)

    Does the choice of "thoughtless happiness" teach us anything about who Tommo is, and how his mind operates?

  • Religion

    The invaders, on their march back to the sea, consoled themselves for their repulse by setting fire to every house and temple in their route; and a long line of smoking ruins defaced the once-smiling bosom of the valley, and proclaimed to its pagan inhabitants the spirit that reigned in the breasts of Christian soldiers. (4.28)

    This is just awful, but is it effective? By destroying a society's infrastructure, are you also destabilizing its religious heritage?

    The frightful genius of pagan worship seemed to brood in silence over the place, breathing its spell upon every object around. Here and there, in the depths of these awful shades, half screened from sight by masses of overhanging foliage, rose the idolatrous altars of the savages. (12.11)

    Sometimes, just because you're not familiar with something, you're afraid of it. Where else does this operate in the book?

    This holiest of spots was defended from profanation by the strictest edicts of the all-pervading 'taboo', which condemned to instant death the sacrilegious female who should enter or touch its sacred precincts, or even so much as press with her feet the ground made holy by the shadows that it cast. (12.13)

    The Typee have a patriarchal (male-dominated) society—or do they? Does the exclusion of women from holy places definitely have to mean that?

    [...] the devoutest Christian who visits that group with an unbiased mind, must go away mournfully asking—'Are these, alas! the fruits of twenty-five years of enlightening?' (17.6)

    These are harsh words. Tommo's (read: Melville's) criticism of missionaries at the time caused quite a stir, in fact.

    With this intent, he escorted me through the Taboo Groves, pointing out to my notice a variety of objects, and endeavoured to explain them in such an indescribable jargon of words, that it almost put me in bodily pain to listen to him. (22.13)

    It makes you wonder how Tommo's view of the Typee religion might have changed, had they simply been able to talk to each other.

    These venerable gentlemen, who I presume were the priests, kept up an uninterrupted monotonous chant, which was partly drowned in the roar of drums. (23.18)

    Both "monotonous" and "drowned" have negative connotations for most of us. How do Tommo's simplest sensory descriptions reveal his attitudes toward religion in the valley?

    All that day the drums resounded, the priests chanted, and the multitude feasted and roared till sunset, when the throng dispersed, and the Taboo Groves were again abandoned to quiet and repose (23.20)

    The Typee religion seems to have periods of great activity, and then periods where no one much thinks about it at all.

    As a religious solemnity, however, it had not at all corresponded with the horrible descriptions of Polynesian worship which we have received in some published narratives, and especially in those accounts of the evangelized islands with which the missionaries have favoured us. (24.1)

    In Melville's view, it's possible that the missionaries might have been using dramatized descriptions for an activist end.

    The fact is, that there is a vast deal of unintentional humbuggery in some of the accounts we have from scientific men concerning the religious institutions of Polynesia. (24.4)

    Let us pause to appreciate the use of "humbuggery." After that, realize that Melville was aware that he was up against a tide of misinterpretation and outright bigotry.

    They are either too lazy or too sensible to worry themselves about abstract points of religious belief. (24.7)

    This seems like a bit of a stretch to us. Are there other points in the narrative where Tommo includes evidence of the Typee's "inner life"?

    The Polynesians are aware of the detestation in which Europeans hold this custom, and therefore invariably deny its existence, and with the craft peculiar to savages, endeavour to conceal every trace of it. (32.12)

    This is cannibalism we're talking about here. How do the Typee view this practice, as it lines up with their religious customs?

  • Awe & Amazement

    How shall I describe the scenery that met my eye, as I looked out from this verdant recess! The narrow valley, [...] nearly hidden from view by masses of leafy verdure, seemed from where I stood like an immense arbour disclosing its vista to the eye, whilst as I advanced it insensibly widened into the loveliest vale eye ever beheld. (3.39)

    Note: it's not just the most beautiful valley Tommo's every seen; it's the most beautiful valley anyone has ever seen.

    Very often when lost in admiration at its beauty, I have experienced a pang of regret that a scene so enchanting should be hidden from the world in these remote seas, and seldom meet the eyes of devoted lovers of nature. (4.19)

    Of course nature is hidden, Tommo. If wilderness were in the middle of city, it probably wouldn't be wilderness anymore.

    The lonely bay of Nukuheva, dotted here and there with the black hulls of the vessels composing the French squadron, lay reposing at the base of a circular range of elevations, whose verdant sides, perforated with deep glens or diversified with smiling valleys, formed altogether the loveliest view I ever beheld, and were I to live a hundred years, I shall never forget the feeling of admiration which I then experienced. (6.28)

    The admiration is in the past. Can we ever hold on to the feeling we felt, once?

    Had a glimpse of the gardens of Paradise been revealed to me, I could scarcely have been more ravished with the sight. (6.42)

    "Awe" and "amazement" are both words commonly linked to religion; it's no surprise that Melville reaches for a religious analogy here.

    The sight that now greeted us was one that will ever be vividly impressed upon my mind. (7.25)

    Telling a true story (or a "true" story) is always a tricky proposition, because it can only ever be based on what you remember, not necessary on reality (whatever that might be).

    I wish that it were possible to sketch in words this spot as vividly as I recollect it. (12.10)

    The loss of language for this hearty storyteller shows that he really means business.

    This lovely sheet of water was almost circular in figure, and about three hundred yards across. Its beauty was indescribable. (18.1)

    Sure, it was indescribable…but please allow me to describe it, anyway.

    [...] fell upon the grotesquely-tattooed form of Kory-Kory, and finally, encountered the pensive gaze of Fayaway, I thought I had been transported to some fairy region, so unreal did everything appear. (18.10)

    Though Typee never slides fully into the surreal, Tommo's incredulity certainly makes it feel uncanny at times.

    [...] the most bewitching ankle in the universe. (18.15)

    We'd really like to get a look at that ankle.

    So vain had I become by the lavish attention to which I had been accustomed, that I felt half inclined, as a punishment for such neglect, to give this Marnoo a cold reception, when the excited throng came within view, convoying one of the most striking specimens of humanity that I ever beheld. (18.19)

    Here Tommo is feeling extreme coolness after living in extreme warmth. Is it only the contrast that makes Marnoo's slight feel so damning?

  • Power

    The captain was the author of the abuses; it was in vain to think that he would either remedy them, or alter his conduct, which was arbitrary and violent in the extreme. (4.3)

    Absolute power corrupts, especially on a boat, where you might get told to walk the plank.

    They fold to their bosom the vipers whose sting is destined to poison all their joys; and the instinctive feeling of love within their breast is soon converted into the bitterest hate. (4.29)

    That's quite a love letter. How would you characterize the "love" Europeans might feel for the islanders?

    The admiral came forward with head uncovered and extended hand, while the old king saluted him by a stately flourish of his weapon. The next moment they stood side by side, these two extremes of the social scale,—the polished, splendid Frenchman, and the poor tattooed savage. They were both tall and noble-looking men; but in other respects how strikingly contrasted! (4.41)

    Yes, we see a really different gear on those two. But they're both men…right?

    Anxious to draw him away from the subject, if possible—for I saw that it would be in vain to attempt changing his mind—I directed his attention to a long bright unwooded tract of land which, sweeping down from the elevations in the interior, descended into the valley before us. (8.6)

    Here Tommo's attempting to exert power by misdirection—how 48 Laws of Power of him.

    Close to where we lay, squatting upon their haunches, were some eight or ten noble-looking chiefs—for such they subsequently proved to be—who, more reserved than the rest, regarded us with a fixed and stern attention. (10.22)

    If silence signifies power, how much power does Tommo have?

    One of them in particular, who appeared to be the highest in rank, placed himself directly facing me, looking at me with a rigidity of aspect under which I absolutely quailed. (10.22)

    "Quail" is a verb that means to feel fear. What might this say about Tommo's relationship with the Typee at this point in the book?

    I took some tobacco from the bosom of my frock and offered it to him. He quietly rejected the proffered gift, and, without speaking, motioned me to return it to its place. (10.23)

    Do you think Mehevi is making a power play here? Or is it possible that he just doesn't want tobacco? How can you tell?

    I forthwith determined to secure, if possible, the good-will of this individual, as I easily perceived he was a man of great authority in his tribe, and one who might exert a powerful influence upon our subsequent fate. (11.11)

    That Tommo—he's always scheming.

    Mehevi, upon the same principle which prompts an affectionate mother to hold a struggling child in a dentist's chair, restrained me in his powerful grasp. (11.15)

    How often powerful people are compared to parents. But it's true—most of us experience our first system of power at home: the family unit (also known as, "Go ask your father").

    The avidity with which his anecdotes are noted down tickles his vanity, and his powers of invention increase with the credulity auditors. (24.4)

    Being in control of the historical narrative is a very potent position indeed, don't you think?

    At this unexpected communication Mehevi regarded me, for a moment, as if he half suspected I was some inferior sort of white man, who after all did not know much more than a Typee. (25.16)

    What's happening between these two? Here, is racial majority and ignorance working against the white man? How can you tell?

  • Freedom & Confinement

    I at once made up my mind to leave her: to be sure it was rather an inglorious thing to steal away privily from those at whose hands I had received wrongs and outrages but how was such a course to be avoided when it was the only alternative left me? (4.15)

    That's one way to put it, Tommo. Is quitting a job the same as breaking out of jail?

    I now deliberately turned over in my mind every plan to escape that suggested itself, being determined to act with all possible prudence in an attempt where failure would be attended with so many disagreeable consequences. (5.1)

    It's interesting—from a structural sense—that Tommo begins and ends the book with an escape plan, neither of which go precisely as expected.

    I straightway fell to picturing myself seated beneath a cocoanut tree on the brow of the mountain, with a cluster of plantains within easy reach, criticizing her nautical evolutions as she was working her way out of the harbour. (5.4)

    Tommo's most intense fantasies have to do with chilling out. Yeah…we totally understand.

    I was aware that he entertained a cordial detestation of the ship, and believed that, should a fair chance of escape present itself, he would embrace it willingly. (5.12)

    Part of confinement can be a limitation of communication. On the ship, Toby and Tommo can't really talk freely, and ditto in the valley. They're constantly having to whisper and scheme. It really makes you appreciate "freedom of speech"—just being able to talk, and be understood, in your everyday life.

    But it will be no use talking to you, for go you will, that I see plainly; so all I have to say is, that you need not blame me if the islanders make a meal of you. You may stand some chance of escaping them though, if you keep close about the French encampment—and are back to the ship again before sunset. (6.2)

    Fearmongering is a common instrument of control and confinement. (Don't take our word for it, though.)

    For my own part, I scarcely knew whether I was helplessly falling from the heights above, or whether the fearful rapidity with which I descended was an act of my own volition. (8.15)

    This really interestingly mirrors Tommo's first few weeks of captivity with the Typee. He's meaning to stay there, until he isn't.

    Might it not be that beneath these fair appearances the islanders covered some perfidious design, and that their friendly reception of us might only precede some horrible catastrophe? How strongly did these forebodings spring up in my mind as I lay restlessly upon a couch of mats surrounded by the dimly revealed forms of those whom I so greatly dreaded! (11.1)

    There's those exclamations again! Tommo's confinement is starting to sink in here.

    So much for the exterior; which, with its wire-like reed-twisted sides, not a little reminded me of an immense aviary. (11.22)

    Tommo sees himself as a bird stuck in a cage (aviary). Is it as bad as all that?

    I was too familiar with the fickle disposition of savages not to feel anxious to withdraw from the valley. (13.4)

    Do you think Tommo would have been in such a hurry to leave had he not heard rumors of cannibalism? Might he have stayed in the valley, never knowing that anyone would prevent him from doing so?

    I had grown familiar with the narrow limits to which my wandering had been confined; and I began bitterly to feel the state of captivity in which I was held. (32.1)

    That "began" is so noteworthy. It really was something of a tropical vacation until Kory-Kory started herding him back from the edges.