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Identity Relating to Facial Versus Non-Facial Tattooing

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Essay title: Identity Relating to Facial Versus Non-Facial Tattooing

Identity Relating to Facial Versus Non-Facial Tattooing.

Through the use of descriptive language Melville is able to provide the reader with a clear line between what does and does not change someone’s identity. He uses the character Tommo to describe the native Typee people. Through these accounts of the Typee people we are able to understand the relationship Tommo and Melville have with tattoos affecting ones identity. By the end of the novel, Tommo is able to completely understand what creates and maintains an identity for ones self.

When Tommo first arrives on the island he is absolutely fascinated with the tattoos on the bodies on the Typee people. He depicts the human body with such detail that it is obvious that he has an obsession with these tattoos. This obsession slowly changes over time; however, it is clearly evident that he is fascinated by the following quote from chapter eleven.

But that which was most remarkable in the appearance of the splendid islander was the elaborated tattooing displayed on every noble limb. All imaginable lines and curves and figures were delineated over his while body, and in their grotesque variety and infinite profusion I could only compare them to the crowded groupings of quaint patterns we sometimes see in costly pieces of lacework. The most simple and remarkable of all these ornaments was that which decorated the countenance of the chief crown, obliquely crossed both eyes—staining the lids—to a little below either ear, where they united with another stripe which swept in a straight line along the lips and formed the base of the triangle. (Melville 78)

By reading in to the passage closely it is evident that Melville uses many words that would imply that Tommo is in no way repulsed from the body art. Melville uses words and phrases such as splendid, grotesque, lines and curves and figures, united, noble limb, infinite profusion, costly pieces of lacework, ornaments, decorated, and swept in order to be as articulate and delicate as possible. He repeats the word remarkable to truly gather the full effect of amazement. Also, the detail in which Tommo can remember the Typee people clearly shows that these forms of body art left a lasting impression upon him. (78-79)

As the novel progresses, Tommo still has a lasting obsession with tattoos but he is also starting to develop a dislike towards tattoos especially on the face. This is perfectly exemplified when Tommo first meets Fayaway. He begins with mentioning that she “was altogether free from the hideous blemish of tattooing...” (86). However, while he does start to show this dislike it is made evident that is directed towards facial tattoos rather than body tattoos. He does eventually see that Fayaway does have tattoos like all of the other females in the society. Once again he goes into fine detail as he describes the perfection of yet another Polynesian. Here he says,

The minute dots, no bigger than pin-heads, decorated either lip, and at a little distance were not at all discernible. Just upon the fall of the shoulder were drawn two parallel lines half inch apart, and perhaps three inches in length, the interval being filled with delicately executed figures. (86)

While Fayaway does have small dots on her face Tommo says that they are minute and discernible. This again proves that he is starting to develop a line that divides art and loss of identity. Again, Tommo uses fine detail to show his fascination with these tattoos. He remembers exactly how close the parallel lines were from each other and exactly how long they were. He uses the phrase “delicately executed” which implies that he still has a real interest or obsession with the artwork. (86) Some might argue that Tommo is just someone who is very interested in details. However, Melville describes the human body in much more detail than anything else within the novel. This is not a simple coincidence. Melville is clearly showing the obsession Tommo has with the tattoos, which also perfectly constructs potential for a dramatic scene with the tattoo artist. (86)

Once again Tommo meets another character and has a unique attraction to him as well. This new characters name is Marnoo and he is very different than the others when it comes to body art. First, “his face was free from the least blemish of tattooing” (136). This shows that Tommo has consistently adapted a strong dislike for facial artwork. He begins to use words such as “blemish” to represent facial tattoos. Blemish is often associated with a “smear”, or a dirty stain, or in beauty sense it may represent an imperfection of the face. No one would want to have a strong blemish upon their own face. The feeling of beauty for facial artwork has changed to disgust. However, Tommo still goes into great detail about the bodywork done upon Marnoo. Tommo

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