The missionaries are discussed in the novel to point out how the native practices were condemned as being barbaric-differing views on sexual practices, or the tendency for tropical peoples to wear less clothing. Because missionaries reject all aspects of native culture as “barbaric”, their influence only serves to turn native people against whites and also against themselves, ultimately crippling their culture. There will be those natives that find the offerings of the white man attractive and the others who want to remain true to the culture.
This is a classic rift created by colonialism that can be clearly seen in our own country with the Native Americans. Along with the use of missionaries to point out the barbarism of the natives, Melville uses the colonist and merchantmen to physically destroy native people. Colonists use their cannons to take over peaceful islands simply in the name of the European empires. Besides the initial destruction of the property of the island we have the ongoing destruction of the people.
Merchantmen take out their sexual desires and aggressions on local women, leaving a legacy of venereal disease that has decimated many a native population. Not to mention the mixed offspring that are left behind. Given the combined stresses of contact with the Europeans, Melville believes that natives will remain much better off if they can simply remain in peace on their own. This would sadly require the voluntary retreat of the western societies. The missionaries and merchantmen operate on some false sense of entitlement and would never surrender the possibility of acquisition.
Melville argues repeatedly that the native culture is superior to mot found in civilization. Although the so-called “civilized” people condemn natives as “heathens” who engage in barbarism, natives are nothing of the sort. The Typees, for example, treat each other with far more civility than people do in urban cities. The Typees generously share food with one another. They do not lie, cheat, or steal. Furthermore, no portions of society are left starving and destitute because of debt or poverty, as so frequently the case in Europe and in the United States.
Although the Typees live a less intellectual existence, their lifestyle is one of bliss and relative peacefulness in a beautiful valley. The natives could teach Europeans many things about how to be less barbaric, Melville feels, but ironically it is the Europeans who call them savages. In what civilized society do many starve while others squander thousands of dollars a day on frivolous waste? Sadly, ours. What is a human? A human is a biological word that is defined as ” 1. of, relating to, being, or characteristic of humans. 2.
Having human form or attributes. ” (Merriam Webster). On of the synonyms I found for “human” was “featherless biped”. One would hope that the real meaning of human is something more than a two-footed being sans feathers but scientific standards, a human is really nothing more than just that. Humanity, on the other hand, is a creation of society. There are men and women by birth but “masculine” and “feminine” are a social creation. Just as those were structured the idea of humanity is an invention of humans. What it means will vary by epoch and area.
In Typee, humanity is assuring the survival of everyone in the community. In the novel, western humanity is forcing God on the heathens and making them wear clothes that are sensible for civilized people but unnecessary for the climate. The Typee are practicing the nature of humanity without even being familiar with the concept. They are not familiar with the concept because they are not aware of the option. Allowing others to die for the sake of one’s greed is an illogical way of life. Melville brings humanity to the natives in his descriptions.
“Never before had I been subjected to so strange and steady a glance; it revealed nothing of the mind of the savage, but it appeared to be reading my own (71). ” The ability to take over another land that is not one’s own is made easier by dehumanizing a culture that differs from the self in not only color but also language. Melville gives depth to the natives and describes them as every bit as human as the French or Americans. Because of the darker skin and the “strange” customs, the French could colonize the islands without regarding the inhabitants as the same as them by calling them savages and not people.
As previously mentioned, the colonists used the native women to release frustration and fulfill their base needs. To be able to commit this act over and over again requires the assailant to consider the victim less than human. In the case of the merchantmen taking of the native women, the act wasn’t even considered wrong. This was all part of the westerners due. Part of what they were entitled to. It would only be considered horrific of the sailors had to witness their own Victorian women being ravaged by these “filthy barbarians”.
The situation would have an entirely new light shed upon it but the crime would remain the same. Only Melville makes direct comparisons to the natives and the people of his homeland. The novel describes the mother, Tinor, by direct comparisons to the women of the western world, “The mother was a notable housewife… if she did not understand the art of making jellies… she was profoundly skilled in the mysteries of preparing “amar”… she was a genuine busy-body… like a county landlady… toiling and sweating with a bundle, under which most women would have sunk (84).
” Tinor is not only just like western women, she is better. The Typee are just as civil and social as any decent society that Tom has encountered. They have their good, hardworking citizens and their lazy derelicts like any other culture, “three young men, dissipated good-for-nothing, grew boozy… the scapegraces of the valley. Melville isn’t trying to put the Typee in a completely Holy light, he is only showing that they are like everyone else and have the same right to live their lives as they see fit.
Tom does leave the island eventually and escape with the idea that perhaps the inhabitants are cannibals. Melville would not have written them in such a positive light if he believed that they were the savages the rest of world perceived them to be. He purposely and almost sarcastically described them at the opening as cannibals with such appalling habits to symbolize the close-minded Victorian sensibilities of the time. This creates the language that is actually being applied to those that are attempting to taint the beautiful island-the Western Colonists.
The real savages are those who can watch their people starve while they have food and spread disease to a pristine country, destroying its people for their own selfish greed. The novel was written four years after his visit to the islands so his real beliefs are expressed about colonialism and the right for a people to be left in what could be described as paradise even by Western standards. A fear of giving up the life in which he was accustomed fueled Tommo’s plans for escape but a respect for the people of Typee wrote this novel.