Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Rescued from the island of Typee by the crew of a British whaler, Herman Melville agrees to stay on the ship as a deckhand until it reaches the next port, where he is to be placed ashore. The Julia, however, is not a well-managed vessel. Soon after Melville joins it, several of the men make an attempt to desert. These unfortunates are recovered quickly, however, by the timely aid of the islanders and the crew of a French man-of-war.
In the weeks of cruising that followed this adventure, Melville, relieved from duty because of a lameness in his leg, spends his time playing chess with the ship’s doctor and reading the doctor’s books. These are not, however, weeks of pleasure. During this time, two of the men in the forecastle die, and the entire crew lives under the most abominable conditions. The rat-infested, rotten old ship should have been condemned years before. Finally, when the captain himself falls ill, the ship changes its course to Tahiti, the nearest island.
The crew convince themselves that when the captain leaves the ship, they will no longer be bound by the agreements they had signed. They intend to leave the ship when it arrives in the harbor at Papeetee. The captain attempts to prevent their desertion by keeping the ship under way just outside the harbor while he goes ashore in a small boat. Only Doctor Long Ghost’s influence prevents the men from disregarding orders and taking the vessel into the harbor to anchor...
(The entire section is 1407 words.)
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