The negative effect of European civilization
Melville strongly believes that contact with the European and American world has a negative effect on native cultures. He opens his book by suggesting that it would be better off for natives to remain on "undiscovered" islands. Throughout the text, he ill
ustrates the terrible effect of European contact by discussing the influence of missionaries, colonists, and merchantmen. The first men who arrive in native lands merely label the natives heathens. They fail to recognize the quality of the native culture
and primarily serve to condemn perfectly acceptable native practices—differing views on sexuality for example, or the tendency of tropical people to wear less clothing. Because missionaries reject all aspects of native culture as "barbaric," their i
nfluence only serves to turn native people against whites and also against themselves, ultimately crippling their culture.
The colonists and merchantmen also serve to physically destroy native people. Colonists use their cannons to take over peaceful islands simply in the name of European empires. Merchantmen take out their sexual desires and aggressions on local women, leavi
ng a legacy of venereal disease that has decimated many a native population. Given the combined stresses of contact with the Europeans, Melville believes that the natives will remain much better off if they can simply remain in peace on their own.