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Chapter 2 Summary
The speaker recollects that they had taken fifteen to twenty days to reach the shores. In the meanwhile, lethargy and leisure reigns on the ship ‘Dolly.’ The crewmen and even the officers spend a languid time on deck, awaiting the glimpse of land. The speaker himself refuses to get drawn into the spell and spends his time gazing out and reveling in the splendor of the sea. As they hail nearer the land, they notice seafowls flying towards their ship, swirling there for a while and then returning.
Finally, land is sighted and they harbor their ship on one of the islands of Marquesas, namely the island of Nukuheva.
The speaker gives a brief geographical description of the three islands of Roohka, Ropo, and Nukuheva. Nukuheva is the most important of these islands. It has three good harbors, the largest of which is called ‘Tyohee.’ The inhabitants, though slightly corrupted by the Europeans, still retain their original primitive character.
By noon, the ship reaches the shore. There, they notice that already some six vessels with the flag of France were harbored. The whole group of islands has just been taken possession of by Read-Admiral Du Petit Thouars.
As their ship advances closer, some canoes with natives on them, come towards them. The speaker also notices a bunch of coconuts, with a man wearing a coconut on his head, trailing towards the ship. A singularly inebriated vagabond too manages to board their ship. Soon, they notice a group of young, nubile native girls swimming towards their ship. They too climb aboard, laughing gaily and join the crewmen in an abandoned riot of debauchery and licentiousness.
The author Herman Melville has characteristically described life on board the ship. The ship itself is referred to as ‘the old lady,’ and the crewmen, knowing that they will reach port soon, are happy to laze around languidly.
The principal character is, of course, shown in different light. He enjoys appreciating the beauty around him and refuses to get drawn into languidity. The encounter with a shoal of flying fish, prowling sharks and the jet of the whale, is superbly described. Typicalities of ship life like the prolongation of sound as the sailor cries-"Land ho!" The captain bawling for his spyglass, the mate’s cry "where away?" and the cook’s black wooly head are all evocative.
The island had been taken over by the French nation and was presently under the control of Rear-Admiral Du Petit Thouars. The speaker therefore finds the picture of the six vessels lounging on the shores, as extremely out of keeping.
The behavior of the natives as they near the ship is strange yet befitting. The sight of the coconuts trailing in the water headed by a coconut man, as it were, is hilarious but that is their way of buying the product.
Apparently, the use of canoes is rigorously prohibited to the female sex, which is why the group of girls reach the ship by swimming across. They make an alluring picture, "their jet-black tresses streaming over their shoulders and half enveloping their otherwise naked forms."
The speaker however, deplores the contaminating contact with the white man. He feels that the white man’s polluting influence is shameful. Yet it is accepted, and the natives now led into every vice, partake of all the licentious acts. The speaker however despises it -"humanity weeps over the ruin thus inflicted upon them by their European civilizers."