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Classic Literature. Fiction. HTML:

Omoo: A Narrative of the South Seas is the sequel to Melville's Typee, both fictional yet highly autobiographical. The narrator ships on a whaling vessel to Tahiti, where the crew mutinies and are imprisoned. The narrative is full of his observations of the Tahitian customs and way of life. Omoo is based on Melville's experiences in the Society Islands.

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I really liked Typee, but Omoo just really dragged for me. It felt very disjointed with no cohesive theme. That is probably because it was more of a diary than a novel. I prefer novels. ( )
  AliceAnna | Nov 2, 2022 |
An unpopular, conniving sea captain on a long voyage to the South Seas. A mistreated crew filled with thoughts of vengeance. A mutiny in Tahiti. Incarceration and then an escape to another Polynesian island. Another retelling of The Mutiny on the Bounty? No, it is Omoo, Melville's sequel to his popular first book, Typee.

It begins with the narrator being rescued from the the vale of the Typees in the Marquesas and leads to an extended journey to Tahiti. Soon, the comparisons between the "noble savages" of Nukuheva and the Christianized inhabitants of Tahiti breaks down, all in the favor of the Typees, in retrospect. For the impact of Europeans on the Tahitians has left them childlike, lazy, without virtue, and worst of all without a meaning for life or their traditions. Omoo is an indictment of Europeans and European ways.

This becomes all the more apparent with the descriptions of the Europeans themselves. Although never directly stated, Melville leaves an image in mind of smelly, unwashed, dirty, sweaty, scraggly whiskered drunkards with broken teeth and malodorous breath whose behavior is rude, violent, and impulsive. One of the greatest offenders is the narrator's friend, Doctor Long Ghost, who attempts to bespoil young girls and maidens, avoids work, feigns sickness, and puts on airs of superiority. Additionally, it is made known that European contact has not only spiritually but physically marred the Tahitians, with the effects of small pox, syphilis, and the measles wreaking havoc throughout the islands.

Like Typee, this is a fictionalized account of Melville's own experiences in the South Seas. But it lacks the strong central storyline of the earlier novel. Here, the adventure is not so grand, and the suspense is left mainly for the "trial" of the mutineers. The story becomes a series of vignettes linked by the travels of the two companions, the narrator and Doctor Long Ghost. And wherever they go, the picture of exploitation, disease, and nature under assault follows. In the end, the romance decays into an image of Polynesian life dissipating into eventual death. It is a dismal picture. ( )
  PaulCornelius | Apr 12, 2020 |
Sequel to Typee, a study in the Tahiti of the whaling days, and the hospitality found by the author in his travels. ( )
  LindaLeeJacobs | Feb 15, 2020 |
Omoo, a sequel to Typee, continues the adventures of an American sailor in Polynesia. After leaving the Typee, he hitches a ride aboard the whaler Julia, but finds conditions that are far from ideal. The crew are a set of rascals, the food is poor even by the standards of ocean-going craft at the time, and rats and cockroaches abound inside the hull. The cockroaches swarm out regularly in a nightly ‘jubilee’, some flying, and others running over the sick if they couldn’t get up to flee with the rest of the sailors. They’re so numerous that “they did not live among you, but you among them.” Worse yet, however, the captain is inexperienced and withdrawn, and the first mate, left in power, is a drunk who is both impulsive and secretive as to where the ship is going. All of this leads to mutinous thoughts on the part of the sailors, most of whom want nothing more than to be let out of their obligations, and dropped off on an island.

Ultimately they do get their wish in Tahiti, and after spending some time in a stockade, the narrator and his buddy ‘Doctor Long Ghost’ are freed. They meander about the island, enjoying the considerable hospitality of the natives, and try to figure out what to do next. The book is at its best in the beginning, and loses a little steam in the second half, partly because the adventures are subdued, and partly because Melville had already done a good job describing Polynesian culture in Typee.

Melville has a sense for the big moments in life, for example when partings are final, and also for the bigger picture as it related to the Tahitians’ ultimate fate in the face of English and French missionaries, who vied for control. I love his writing style, which is honest, intelligent, and has wry bits of humor. He observes and does not judge either the natives, who are so open and kind, though indolent, or the Europeans, whose missionaries zealously proselytize. The latter sent out ‘religious police’ to force natives to attend church services, went around spying on amorous encounters to denounce them, and outlawed so many simple and beautiful things that they believed related to heathenism – the wearing of necklaces and garlands of flowers, the singing of ballads, and the playing of athletic games such as wrestling, foot-racing, throwing the javelin, and archery. It’s sad, and insane. Does it remind one of anything today, say, the Taliban?

Melville is balanced and doesn’t go on a diatribe against religion or the Europeans, he just sees the inevitable end – the doom and extinction of the natives, or at least, their way of life. In one chapter he cites several other books and reports on the natives, e.g. Captain Wilson, who first took missionaries to Tahiti, saying that in many ways the natives had in many things, “more refined ideas of decency than ourselves”, as well as Kotzebue, a Russian navigator, who has this to say: “A religion like this, which forbids every innocent pleasure, and cramps or annihilates every mental power, is a libel on the divine founder of Christianity. It is true that the religion of the missionaries has, with a great deal of evil, effected some good. It has restrained the vices of theft and incontinence; but it has given birth to ignorance, hypocrisy, and a hatred of all other modes of faith, which was once foreign to the open and benevolent character of the Tahitian.”

The book provides a window into a lost world and a tragedy of the 19th century, just as it provided readers in 1847 a window into this exotic land. Imagine their reaction when reading of a completely different way of life, and things like the moonlit ‘Lory-Lory’ dance of the native women:

“Again the two leaders wave their hands, when the rest pause; and now, far apart, stand in the still moonlight like a circle of fairies. Presently, raising a strange chant, they softly sway themselves, gradually quickening the movement, until, at length, for a few passionate moments, with throbbing bosoms and glowing cheeks, they abandon themselves to all the spirit of the dance, apparently lost to everything around. But soon subsiding again into the same languid measure as before, they become motionless; and then, reeling forward on all sides, their eyes swimming in their heads, join in one wild chorus, and sink into each other’s arms.”

It’s hard to imagine life at this time, or the adventure of wandering around on an island, shoeless and in clothes quickly becoming tattered, meeting natives and various castaway sailors, and living off of them. Melville lets us do that. I also loved this particular edition from 1924, with beautiful thick pages and eight color illustrations.

Quotes:
On beauty:
“The girl was certainly fair to look upon. Many heavens were in her sunny eyes; and the outline of that arm of hers, peeping forth from a capricious tappa robe, was the very curve of beauty.”

On the friendliness of the Tahitians:
“Filled with love and admiration for the first whites who came among them, the Polynesians could not testify the warmth of their emotions more strongly than by instantaneously making the abrupt proffer of friendship. Hence, in old voyages we read of chiefs coming off from the shore in their canoes, and going through with strange antics, expressive of the desire. In the same way, their inferiors accosted the seamen; and thus the practice had continued in some islands down to the present day.”

On racism:
“Wanton acts of cruelty like this are not unusual on the part of sea captains landing at islands comparatively unknown. Even at the Pomotu group, but a day’s sail from Tahiti, the islanders coming down to the shore have several times been fired at by trading schooners passing through their narrow channels; and this too as a mere amusement on the part of the ruffians.
Indeed, it is almost incredible, the light in which many sailors regard these naked heathens. They hardly consider them human. But it is a curious fact, that the more ignorant and degraded men are, the more contemptuously they look upon those whom they deem their inferiors.”

These illustrate Melville’s writing style:
On cleaning him up after having been with the Typee, a haircut:
“While this was going on, someone removing my tappa cloak slipped on a blue frock in its place; and another, actuated by the same desire to make a civilized mortal of me, flourished about my head a great pair of sheepshears, to the imminent jeopardy of both ears, and the certain destruction of hair and beard.”

On choosing members of the crew that were most trustworthy:
“After considerable deliberation on the part of the captain and mate, four of the seamen were pitched upon as the most trustworthy; or rather they were selected from a choice assortment of suspicious characters as being of an inferior order of rascality.”

On weeding:
“Now, though the pulling of weeds was considered by our employers an easy occupation (for which reason they had assigned it to us), and although as a garden recreation it may be pleasant enough, for those who like it – still, long persisted in, the business becomes excessively irksome.
Nevertheless, we toiled away for some time, until the doctor, who, from his height, was obliged to stoop at a very acute angle, suddenly sprang upright; and with one hand propping his spinal column, exclaimed, ‘Oh, that one’s joints were but provided with holes to drop a little oil through!’
Vain as the aspiration was for this proposed improvement upon our species, I cordially responded thereto; for every vertebra in my spine was articulating in sympathy.”

Lastly, this one from a Tahitian priest, who saw their doom. It reminds me of similar poetry from Native Americans later in the 19th century:
“A harree ta fow,
A toro ta farraro,
A now ta tarrarta.

The palm-tree shall grow,
The coral shall spread,
But man shall cease.” ( )
2 vote gbill | Jun 4, 2016 |
Herman Melville's “Omoo” is no “Moby Dick.” Instead, it is a boring and repetitive narrative about a malcontent and undisciplined crew on a whaling ship in the South Seas. My Kindle says I persevered for 32% of this plodding going-nowhere story before I quit. ( )
  DomingoSantos | Jul 6, 2011 |
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Classic Literature. Fiction. HTML:

Omoo: A Narrative of the South Seas is the sequel to Melville's Typee, both fictional yet highly autobiographical. The narrator ships on a whaling vessel to Tahiti, where the crew mutinies and are imprisoned. The narrative is full of his observations of the Tahitian customs and way of life. Omoo is based on Melville's experiences in the Society Islands.

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