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Melville enjoyed the remarkable experience of beginning his career as a popular author, admired by critics on both sides of the Atlantic as a new phenomenon. He was also hailed largely as a sailor-author, identified with nautical lingo and experiences, and his early books evince his anxiety over demands for maritime adventures when he was beginning to model himself on the poets, dramatists, philosophers, and epic visionaries of the past. This mixture of bold self-assertion and anxious self-scrutiny lends his early texts a problematic but also fascinating complexity.

As opposed to these organic and unifying arts, his storytelling is self-interested, disruptive, and sneaky. Typee revolts from it eventually and leaves the doctor behind. Nevertheless he raises the question of whether he, the book’s narrator, is also, like the doctor, pulling the reader’s leg and picking the reader’s pockets. Typee casts a dreamy Polynesian spell on the reader; Omoo beguiles the reader in other less charming ways, making “literary use” of an old story of robbery and deceit. This depredation operates on a political stage, with the Western powers of nation-building and religious conversion cowing the Tahitian islanders into submission.

Long Ghost demonstrates the dark side of spinning wild and improbable yarns. Stealing kisses from island maidens and food from his generous hosts, Long Ghost exhibits a con-artistry quite different from what the geniuses of Polynesian tattooing, woodcarving, and weaving of cloth produce. As opposed to these organic and unifying arts, his storytelling is self-interested, disruptive, and sneaky. Typee revolts from it eventually and leaves the doctor behind. Nevertheless he raises the question of whether he, the book’s narrator, is also, like the doctor, pulling the reader’s leg and picking the reader’s pockets.

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