"Typee" by Herman Melville.

Essay by montanadevilUniversity, Bachelor'sA, October 2003

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The "Civil" and The "Savage"

Herman Melville in his book Typee gives the "civilized" world a peek at the "uncivilized" world in the Nukuhiva valley. Through his speaker Tommo's experiences in the valley Melville shows the "civilized" world what it would be like to live in harmony with nature. He thinks that the people who live close to the nature are much happier, healthier and are free from most of the miseries that the people of the "civilized" world go through. He says, "In a primitive state of society, the enjoyments of life, though few and simple, are spread over a great extent, and are unalloyed; but Civilization, for every advantage she imparts, holds a hundred evils in reserve; - the heart burnings, the jealousies, the social rivalries, the family dissensions and the thousand self- inflicted discomforts of refined life, which make up in units the swelling aggregate of human misery, are unknown among these unsophisticated people" (124-25).

But can we call this "primitive" or "uncivilized" state of society in the Nukuhiva valley an "uncivilized" or "primitive" society after all. Because the qualities we use to distinguish between the "civil" and "uncivil" are themselves ambiguous.

Sexuality is one of the qualities that we use to distinguish between "civil" and "uncivil" actions. In the 18th, 19th century Europe women covered themselves from the neckline to the ankles and weren't open about the issues of sexuality. Because of this Tommo was very surprised when a group of young girls came onboard their ship just as they were approaching the islands. He says that their "free unstudied action seemed as strange as beautiful" (15). This "free unstudied action" of the young women who live in harmony with nature in the islands raises moral and ethical dilemmas in the minds of "civilized"...