Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life

Compassionate Colonialism

Herman Melville’s Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life is both a compelling illusory story and a concerted effort to moderate the imperialist mindset of its readers. In fact, Typee is a narrative that doubles as a manifesto, a collection of Melville’s own autobiographical observations that are meant to educe attitudes against colonialism. “Colonialism,” however, is a broad topic, and Melville could have constructed an argument against its rudiments in many different ways. In Typee, Melville manages to write a novel against colonialism without writing a novel about colonialism, never stepping aside from his responsibilities as a storyteller. Certainly, there are moments in the text where anti-imperialist arguments–though never identified as such–are dealt with directly by the narrator. Most of the narrative, however, employs anti-imperial rhetoric on much subtler levels, involving the intersection of numerous themes and ideas. Perhaps because of these complications, Typee is also a problematic text, as Melville often employs ideas at odds with his anti-colonialism intent. In fact, I argue that Melville ultimately fails in his attempts to edify his readers, as the critiques in Typee end up serving the same assumptions they intend to...

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