Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


Dolly. Whaling vessel that carries the narrator to the Marquesas Islands. Before arriving there, the ship and its crew spend six months at sea in pursuit of sperm whales. Though Melville’s descriptions of life on this ship are minuscule in comparison to his lavish depictions of the islands, these matters are important because they explain why the narrator and his cohort Toby decide to jump ship. It is also through these descriptions that the author chronicles injustices suffered by sailors and thus sets into motion one of his concerns in this and in later narratives: reform of oppressive and intrusive Western institutions.


*Nukuheva (noo-koo-HEE-vah). Largest and most important of the Marquesas Islands. Approximately twenty miles in length and nearly as broad, Nukuheva (now generally rendered Nuku Hiva) is large enough to boast three good harbors and is consequently the place where foreign ships first land. As the Dolly enters the harbor, the crew finds that the French have occupied the island and are maintaining control with several warships and soldiers. However, despite this familiar Western presence, the narrator is still overcome by the exotic scenery as he describes the terrain of the island from the vantage point of the Dolly. What he finds most remarkable are the swelling heights of the surrounding hills and mountains rising from the placid, blue waters of the bay....

(The entire section is 552 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Anderson, Charles Roberts. Melville in the South Seas. New York: Columbia University Press, 1939. A still reliable account of Melville’s own South Seas voyages featuring comparisons between the facts of Melville’s experience and the fictions of Moby Dick, Typee, and Omoo.

Herbert, T. Walter. Marquesan Encounters: Melville and the Meaning of Civilization. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1980. An examination of Typee alongside two other nineteenth century narratives of Americans in the South Seas in the context of how Marquesan societies were irreparably damaged by contacts with white people during this era. Provides excellent readings of the political and religious dimensions of Melville’s book.

Lawrence, D. H. Studies in Classic American Literature. New York: Penguin Books, 1978. Lawrence was important in the re-evaluation of Melville in the 1920’s. (Melville had sunk into obscurity between the end of his novelistic career in the 1850’s and this rediscovery.) Lawrence has two essays on him in this book, including one on Typee and Omoo.

Leyda, Jay. The Melville Log: A Documentary Life of Herman Melville, 1819-1891. Vol. 1. New York: Gordian, 1951. Leyda’s work is a two-volume collection of documents important to the life and career of Melville, including excerpts from letters to and from Melville and his family, reviews of his work, and snippets of Melville’s novels which allude to cited biographical data.

Rogin, Michael Paul. Subversive Genealogy: The Politics and Art of Herman Melville. Berke-ley: University of California Press, 1985. Incisive psychological and Marxist reading of Melville’s life and work, arguing him as one of the leading thinkers of his age. Its reading of Melville’s family’s place in the historical context of the 1840’s is unparalleled.