Somewhere between the fifty-first and the sixty-fifth chapters of Omoo, Melville seems to, for lack of a better way of saying it, lose track of his voice. From the moment the narrator steps aboard the Julia until his feet land on the sands of Tahiti, Melville’s literary voice is clean and clear; embellished only when engaging it a bit of sly obfuscation for the purposes of humor. However sometime between the arrival in Tahiti, where the narrator’s prose becomes a touch more purple, and chapter sixty-five (the beginning of “The Hegira”), the voice of the narrator changes into something wholly different from his previous plain-spoken tone. He becomes very affected in his speech, as if he thinks himself to be telling a story far more grand than it is.
Did Melville intentionally change the narrator’s tone in an attempt to make “The Hegira” a short story existing independently within the larger story? Did he simply lose control of the style in which he was writing his narrator’s character? Perhaps he set the manuscript aside for a time and when he returned to it found himself unable to regain the exact voice in which he had been writing (a difficulty I readily admit to having experienced myself on more than one occasion).
Interestingly, at the very end of the novel, Melville regains his narrator’s earlier clean and clear voice – a point that could serve as evidence for any of the above noted explanations. Perhaps he was simply not as comfortable writing about activities that took place on land as those having taken place at sea. In the most generous reading of the matter possible, the change of voice might be understood as a reflection of the psychological change that took place in the mind of the narrator as a result of him, a sailor at heart, having been too long ashore and once resuming his life onboard a new ship regains the clarity not only of voice but of mind he previously possessed. Were such the case, it would make Melville one of the most brilliant and subtle of novelists; qualities even the most admiring critics would not likely allow him without qualification.