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Written by Timothy Sexton
The narrator of Typee is a young man incapable of resisting the siren song sung by the possibility of adventures on the high seas. Like Ishmael in Moby-Dick, call Tommo the alter-ego of Herman Melville. After signing up for a whaling expedition, Tommo gradually transforms from mere narrator to literary hero. Although he is far more thinly characterized than Ishmael or many other of his characters, what does come through in nearly every page is his primary trait of personality: a romantic pursuer of adventure.
Tommo’s boon companion is fellow adventurer Toby. Indeed, Melville endows Toby with an even greater spirit of romanticism through delineation of a certain mysterious quality to his tales of chasing adventure around the world in a manner that often makes it appear as those he is the one being chased by adventure. Or, at the very least, “some mysterious fate.”
An important element throughout the story is the leg injury endured by Tommo. One example of how that injury becomes important to the narrative is demonstrated through the character of Kory-Kory. Idiosyncratically described through a native hairstyle at odds with western traditions and an intricate series of tattoos across his face, Kory-Kory is physically off-putting to Tommo, but the man’s capabilities to provide duties ranging from nursing his wounded leg to protecting him from harm very quickly insinuates the native into lasting good graces of the interloper from across the ocean.
The female counterpart to Kory-Kory would have to Fayway whose name is every bit as delightful as her appearance is beautiful. Of course, it is worth nothing that Melville gets just tad hypocritical here. While much of Typee is a celebration of indigenous primitive culture, Fayaway stands out as particularly appealing to Tommo precisely because she compares more favorably to European ideals of femininity.
Marnoo is a native who stands out from the rest. For one thing, his physicality is almost comparable to that of ancient Greek gods. For another, Marnoo is endowed with the capacity to facilitate Tommo through prickly situations as a result of speaking some English. Then there is very elevated taboo status conferred upon Marnoo which allows him the rare privilege of moving freely within the various tribes among the valleys without danger. Most importantly from the perspective outside his particular place within the novel is Marnoo’s status as a working prototype for a much more complex Melville character yet to come: Billy Budd.
Mehevi is the possessor of the greatest power among the tribes with whom Tommo comes into contact. He is appropriately noble and severe, two qualities which stimulate the westerner to seek his favor. Perhaps another slight indication of Melville’s unrecognized hypocrisy is the way Tommo describes Mehevi’s greatness as a ruler by comparing him the equal of any European monarch.
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