American Literature of the Sea and Great Lakes

OMOO (1847). Herman Melville’s* second novel and sequel to Typee* (1846), Omoo traces the wanderings of the narrator, whom the men call Typee, and Doctor Long Ghost. They begin as discontented sailors on board the Julia (the Lucy Ann in real life), become involved in a mutiny,* and are put in custody on Tahiti. They travel about Tahiti and Eimeo, observing the natives’ customs, which, Typee laments, have been ruined by the advent of Western culture, particularly the missionaries. At the end, Typee determines to go to sea again and sails off in the Leviathan, as Melville does in the Charles and Henry.

In the section at sea, which constitutes the first third of the novel, Melville deepens the criticism of the tyranny of shipboard conditions he had begun in Typee. Poorly provisioned and beset by illness, the crew is commanded by the ineffectual Captain Guy and his drunken, bullying mate Jermin. As the situation on board deteriorates, Typee and Long Ghost attempt to mediate the conflict between Jermin and the men, but to no avail. In these scenes Melville condemns the harshness of the officers’ rule and portrays, as he would do so fully in Moby-Dick (1851), the wild variety of sailors. Officials of any sort are depicted as either weak and useless or evil and vindictive. The mutineers receive only condemnation by the British consul Wilson, and before their incarceration on Tahiti they are imprisoned on a French frigate, symbolic of the larger imperialist powers threatening the men and the South Seas. [See also THE RED RECORD]

John Samson