Reader Expectations and Innovation in Omoo and Mardi
IN HIS SECOND BOOK, Melville applied what he had learned about the power of readers in the marketplace and shaped Omoo: A Narrative of Adventures in the South Seas ( 1847) according to the diverse, frequently contradictory standards exacted by the various audiences of Typee. Seeking models that would lend a greater air of reality, a criterion that British and American cultivated readers demanded, Melville turned to the popular genre of the nautical reminiscence. To meet the expectations of both general readers for the voice of a common sailor and cultivated readers for a "gentleman's" account, Melville combined these formulations in ways that did not alienate either audience, as had occurred in Typee. Though his literary reputation and future success with "gentleman" readers and other advocates of cultivated narration depended on a realistic, authentic narrative, his previous success with general readers resulted primarily from the "racy" tone in which he had narrated his first book of travels. Melville discovered the approach he needed in the popular realistic sea tales of the 1840s.
Melville's reliance on this American genre of the sea narrative reveals essential differences between Typee and Omoo, differences frequently overlooked by critics who consider these first novels collectively as the "Siamese twins of the literary world."1 The author's inclination to turn the nautical reminiscence to his literary advantage -- his ability to use conventions that united different audiences as well as provided space for innovation within the genre -- deserves