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Antebellum at SeaMaritime Fantasies in Nineteenth-Century America$
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Jason Berger

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780816677061

Published to Minnesota Scholarship Online: August 2015

DOI: 10.5749/minnesota/9780816677061.001.0001

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Tattoos in Typee: Rethinking Melville’s “Cultural Grotesque”

Tattoos in Typee: Rethinking Melville’s “Cultural Grotesque”

(p.97) Chapter 3 Tattoos in Typee: Rethinking Melville’s “Cultural Grotesque”
Antebellum at Sea

Jason Berger

University of Minnesota Press

This chapter discusses the notion of Polynesian tattooing in antebellum maritime narratives. Native peoples’ systems of tattooing have provoked the imaginations of readers various kinds of narratives. Western fascination with the tattoo spawned a veritable “heads-for-weapons” trade in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The chapter examines the narrative of Herman Melville, Typee: A Romance of the South Seas, to explore how the West’s anxiety about being disfigured and racially marked by native tattoo may act as a fantasy. Tattoo stands out as a focal point in explaining how an ethnocentric and logocentric West negotiates with the Pacific.

Keywords:   Polynesian tattooing, Herman Melville, Typee, West, Pacific

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