What does Tommo's exploration of Typee culture suggest about Western Civilization? Also what does it say about the possibility of resistance of oppressive social codes?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In Typee, Herman Melville rejects Calvinism's moral pessimism as the narrator who renames himself Tommo, along with his friend Toby discover that the natives have an inherent sense of right and wrong that the influx of missionaries and merchants from Western cultures has perverted with its own vices. Along with these missionaries innocence is ruined, and disease and death arrive.

After they jump ship, Toby and the Tommo are generously taken in by the natives, and they discover a life filled with the simplicity and devotion of those like Kory-Kory and the completely natural and sensuous Fayaway in an Edenic paradise. Like the birds of the parable, the Typee people do not worry about their next meal or anything else. Moreover, in their dealings with each other, they exhibit an innate moral sense. 

In Chapter 26, Melville writes of his opinion of Western missionaries and merchants,

Among the islands of Polynesia, no sooner are the images overturned, the temples demolished, and the idolators converted into NOMINAL Christians, that disease, vice, and premature death make their appearance....Neat villas, trim gardens, shaven lawns, spires, and cupolas arise, while the poor savage soon finds himself an interloper in the country of his fathers, and that too on the very site of the hut where he was born. The spontaneous fruits of the earth, which God in his wisdom had ordained for the support of the indolent natives, remorselessly seized upon and appropriated by [merchants], are devoured before the eyes of the starving inhabitants, or sent on board the numerous vessels which now touch at their shores.

Fmro his observations during his time with the natives of Tybee, Tommo spends a halcyon period with them, enjoying the simplicity of life and the naturalness of the natives. Nevertheless, he feels the yearning for the unknown future.

Further in this same chapter, Melville points out that wherever Western vessels have landed, the innocence and purity of the natives is corrupted and the Westerners exert a demoralizing effect upon the natives. There does not seem to be any resistance that can meet oppressive social codes.

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