Mardi, and a Voyage Thither by Herman Melville

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Summary

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

The narrator of the story, a young American sailor, is picked up at Ravavai, a Pacific island, by a whaling vessel, the Arcturion. The voyage of the Arcturion is not a successful one, and when the ship begins to head for the cold climate of the Bay of Kamchatka, the young narrator and his special friend in the forecastle, Jarl, decide to leave the ship. Knowing the captain will not land them anywhere, they provision a small boat and in it escape from the ship under cover of darkness.

Heading westward, the two men hope to reach some hospitable islands. After sailing for many days, they come upon a drifting ship that seems to be a derelict. Finding it in fairly seaworthy condition, they board it. The following morning, a native man and woman are found in the rigging, where they had hidden from the narrator and Jarl. With the help of the natives, who had escaped with the ship from an unfriendly tribe of islanders after the latter had killed the ship’s crew, the narrator and Jarl continue their voyage in search of land.

After many days of voyaging, the vessel is becalmed. In the storm that follows, the vessel is wrecked. Jarl and the narrator, with the native man, Samoa, set out in a little whaleboat. The native woman is killed during the storm. Many days later, they see a sail in the distance. Taking up their oars to aid the force of the sail, they slowly close in on the craft they had spotted. As they draw close, they see it is a strange arrangement of two native canoes with a platform built over them. After some discussion between the native priest in charge of the craft and the narrator, the sailor and Samoa board the native vessel. Once aboard the craft, they discover a beautiful blonde girl, but they have to force a passage through the natives to regain the whaleboat. In the scuffle, they take two of the natives prisoners. From the natives, they learn that the blonde girl is the priest’s prisoner. Going back aboard the native craft, the sailor and Samoa rescue the girl and escape with her from the natives.

The girl, whose name is Yillah, wishes to return to her native islands. The narrator soon falls in love with her, and the girl, in native fashion, returns his affection. The narrator then decides that he will remain with her on her island home. Sighting a group of islands at last, the party heads for the nearest beach. Before they reach the shore, however, natives swim out to the whaleboat and give them an excited welcome. Towing the boat into shallow water, the natives pick it up and carry it ashore on their shoulders. The visitors are completely puzzled by their reception until they learn that the narrator has been mistaken for the natives’ god, Taji, who, according to an ancient prophecy, would one day revisit them in human form. The natives also think that the other three occupants of the whaleboat are deities whom Taji has brought from another world for companionship.

Media, king of the atoll, makes the guests welcome, and Taji, as the narrator is now called, decides to make the best of his position, as long as his godhood put him under no particular constraints. He and Yillah, housed in a splendid grass house, live a life of tranquil happiness, doing no more than the islanders, who in their turn have little to do to make life comfortable. Then, suddenly, unhappiness strikes the island and Taji. He awakes one morning to find Yillah gone without a trace. Within a few days of Yillah’s disappearance, Taji receives a visit from a portentously disguised messenger, who gives the young sailor a set of flower symbols from Queen Hautia, the dark queen of a group of distant islands.

The natives interpret the flower symbols from Hautia to mean that the Queen loves Taji, wishes his presence, and bode him not look for Yillah, his lost love. Not to be dissuaded, however, Taji, accompanied by King Media and a party of his courtiers, including Yoomy the poet-singer and Babbalanja the philosopher, sets sail in a huge, ornate native...

(The entire section is 1,168 words.)