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Pocahontas: A Great American Myth

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Pocahontas: A Great American Myth

John Smith's tales of the Indian princess, Pocahontas, have, over time, encouraged the evolution of a great American myth. According to this myth, which is common knowledge to most Americans, Pocahontas saved Smith from being killed by her father and his warriors and then fell in love with John Smith. Some versions of the myth popular among Americans include the marriage of Smith and Pocahontas. Although no one can be sure of exactly what happened almost four-hundred years ago, most historians agree that the myth is incorrect. Pocahontas did not save John Smith's life from "savages" and never showed any affection for him. The events of her life differ greatly from the myth Americans have created. Historians, such as Nancy Egloff, of the Jamestown settlement, believe Smith created the story of his attempted murder to gain fame (Vincent 1).

Our sole evidence that Pocahontas saved Smith's life comes from his story in The General History of Virginia, New England, and the Summer Isles (1624), but this may not be a reliable source. According to Smith, he was captured by Indians, taken to their chief, Powhatan, and was to be killed, but Pocahontas, Powhatan's daughter, saved his life (111). John Smith was captured by the Indians, but whether he was to be killed by them in the ceremony which he describes in The General History of Virginia is not certain. Smith describes a scene where all of the Indians gather around him, place his head on a stone, and Pocahontas lays her head on top of his to save him from being clubbed to death (111). Historians believe that this was not an attempt to "beat out his brains," as Smith describes (111), but rather an adoption ceremony. The Indians merely welcomed Smith into the tribe, for after the ceremony, Chief Powhatan named him his son, which Smith also describes in his General History, but attributes his acceptance to Pocahontas' love for Englishmen. This ceremony was actually a traditional ritual of the tribe, and Pocahontas played a designated role in that ritual (Chief Crazy Horse). She accepted Smith as her brother in the ritual, while Smith believed she saved his life from ruthless savages. Smith may have misinterpreted an Indian ritual, or he may have romanticized the story to gain fame, which many believe was typical of him.

Some believe Smith's captivity may never have occurred...

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...ey's further dramatization of the myth:

It is unfortunate that this sad story, which Euro-Americans should find embarrassing, Disney makes "entertainment" and perpetuates a dishonest and self-serving myth at the expense of the Powhatan Nation. (3)

Perhaps we, as Americans, enjoy this romantic tale of Indians and Europeans, our ancestors, uniting. We therefore continue to relay this obstruction of the truth from generation to generation, until the truth is no longer recognizable.

Works Cited

"Pocahontas." Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities. Online. Internet. January 24, 1998. Available at http: //www.apva.org /history/ pocahont.html.

"John Smith." The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Baym, Nina et. all. 4th ed. Vol. 1. New York: Norton, 1994. 111.

Chief Roy Crazy Horse. "Pocahontas Myth." Powhatan Nation. Online. Internet. January 24, 1998. Available http://www.powhatan.org/pocc.html.

"Pocahontas." Columbia Concise Encyclopedia: Microsoft Bookshelf. Microsoft Corporation: 1993. 1.

Vincent, Mal. "Preview: the historical Pocahontas." Online. Internet. 24 Jan. 1998. Available http://www.pilotonline.com/movies/mv0620his.html
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