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Two Ways of Articulating Outsider's Knowledge of Polynesian Culture and Religion: Melville's Typee and Mardi

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image of Method & Theory in the Study of Religion

Two of Melville's early works are contrasting attempts to report on what he saw and experienced during his stay in some islands of the South Pacific. Typee is presented as a sober, philosophical account of mores and religion, thus in keeping with the more ethnographic interests of travelers's reports. Mardi is an avowed work of fiction. While cannibalism serves to focus interest in the first, human sacrifice has this function in the second. Melville could find previous authors to support his approach in the first book but, even though he studied available works on mythologies, found no scholarship to help with the second issue. It is argued that the second work, albeit a fiction, makes the greater cognitive advance and helps discern the perils scholars had to face in the colonialist era.


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