In January of 1841 the twenty-two-year-old Herman Melville shipped aboard the whaler Acushnet for a multi-year cruise. He had many motivations for doing this. There was, in the first place, a desire to see the world and test himself against its challenges; then there was a need to escape the stultifying confines and restrictions of a nineteenth-century “proper” American household; and finally, a longing to cleanse himself of his father’s failures, disgrace, and early death.Continue reading
Taboos And Totems
Herman Melville’s first book, Typee, describes his adventures among the natives of the Marquesas Islands in the South Pacific. His whaler, the Acushnet, had reached Nuku Hiva, and by that time the young rogue had reached the limits of his tolerance of shipboard life. So he left. He and his friend Toby took a few personal possessions and descended into the valley of the Typee (Taipi) tribe, to see what the great Unknown had to offer. Melville had had enough with tyrannical ship-captains; he could accept no further impediments to his exploratory desires. As the Roman historian Velleius Paterculus says,
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