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Disney’s Pocahontas

children's book / cover image / Disney's Pocahontas - Korman

In tedious narrative, Pocahontas is 'one with Nature', while Europeans are gold-seeking, city-loving louts, except for handsome John Smith.

Full Review

Sadly, Disney’s Pocahontas is driven more by revisionist history, environmentalism and multiculturalism, than by the facts surrounding the origin of Jamestown, Virginia (1607). History is stood on its head, and children are deprived of an opportunity to see greatness in the difficulties of the first American colony.

The Disney story begins with an idyllic Pocahontas regularly communing with the spirits of Nature, untouched by the difficulties of primitive life. She is the favorite daughter of the most powerful chief of the Powhatan (“pow-HAT-un”) tribe. She tells “Grandmother Willow, a wise old tree spirit” that she is not happy with having to marry a brave named Kocoum, and that she often has mysterious dreams of a spinning arrow (a compass). Of course, she sees ships arrive and meets Capt. John Smith, who is amazed at the beauty of the Powhatan territory. She decides that his “heart was kind“.

The story’s conflict begins when Governor Ratcliffe and his men, all gold-seeking louts, are surprised by a group of Indian braves lurking near their work site. Apparently the hiding braves meant no harm (being noble savages), but they frightened Ratcliffe’s men who take the first shot (i.e. Europeans are ignoble savages). A brave is wounded and Chief Powhatan is predictably angered.

Later, Kocoum and a European spy on Pocahontas and Smith from separate hiding places. Pocahontas convinces Smith to speak peace with her father. When he agrees she kisses him. Kocoum angrily tackles Smith but is promptly shot dead by the hidden European. Braves immediately capture Smith, who of course must pay with his life.

When a pet raccoon brings Smith’s compass –with its “spinning arrow”– to Pocahontas, she grasps its significance in her dreams and rushes to rescue Smith. As Powhatan prepares to dash out Smith’s brains with his war club, Pocahontas throws herself over Smith and pleads for peace. Of course, Powhatan agrees, but as the Indians lower their weapons Ratcliffe shoots at Powhatan. Incredibly, Smith leaps to take the bullet.

Injured, Capt. Smith returns to London, England to recuperate. Pocahontas stays behind preferring her idyllic wilderness over the cities of Europe (of which she actually knows nothing).

Critique

Disney’s Pocahontas is such a distortion of modern history that it is an injustice, not only to the Jamestown colonists, but also to the children that are Disney’s intended audience.

The wilderness, untouched by White Man, is clearly presented as pristine and ideal, harboring benevolent spirits everywhere. Beautiful Pocahontas, the sublime American Indian, is a spiritual environmentalist who knows “her world was more beautiful than any city“. It did not matter to Disney that she had never seen a city.

Equally absurd is, John Smith’s amazement at the beauty of her wilderness. The writers of Disney’s Pocahontas seemed to have forgotten that in 1607 everything was wilderness, including much of Europe. Similarly, they have failed to grasp the enormity of sailing across the Atlantic in 1606, in little wooden ships. Such a trip was as challenging and dangerous for the men on board, as were the first flights to the moon (July 1969 to Dec 1972). The trip was not something trumped up by ragamuffin market vendors and grasping gold-seekers, but an expedition whose backers carefully planned, with the foreign policy approval of the Queen.

Consistent with revisionist history and multiculturalism, the Indians in Disney’s fantasy are noble victims of white man’s material lusting. The fact that Chief Powhatan and his braves routinely ransacked other Powhatan villages for food and tortured any who opposed them is a politically incorrect truth to be ignored. In Smith’s own journal Powhatan was described as “very terrible and tryannous [sic] in punishing such as offend him“. Pocahontas would have known this of her father.

Equally ‘incorrect’ is the embarrassing and telling fact that the real Pocahontas saw the Europeans as having a superior culture. She sought to help the colonists and warned them of her tribe’s raids, knowing full well that she was endangering herself. Ultimately, a few years after Smith had left, she abandoned her family and native life to marry one of the settlers (John Rolfe). She even moved to England. Imagine how heroic this decision must have been. She left tribe, family and forest, to sail across an immense sea, with unfamiliar men to an stunningly different culture! This was no casual decision. The Europeans plainly had such good qualities, compared to the Indians of the time that she staked her life on it.

There is another method used in the re-writing of history, also used to undermine the good of Western Culture.  This  approach deliberately applies modern ethics to the Western Culture (only) of centuries ago.  By this method, the young Pocahontas (only ~13 yrs old) was a victim of “statutory rape” by the Jamestown men.   At that time, sexual relationships had utterly different standards from today, or was taboo.  Note the use of “statutory”, which means by the regulation of the state.  Such regulations had not yet been considered!

By rewriting history, Disney’s Pocahontas sets children up to believe in quite an opposite Pocahontas. This Pocahontas fits with the modern Environmentalists’ false view that a primitive non-technological life is an idyllic ideal.  The Disney ending then leaves the false notion that Pocahontas chose the ‘Eden’ of the American forest, explicitly rejecting European life.

Of course, Disney presents the Europeans, excluding Smith, according to the usual, phony moral ‘package’ that equates gold-seeker and businessman with ‘greedy’ murderer. This exemplifies the hypocrisy of multiculturalism. Clearly multiculturalism advocates the moral equivalency of any and all cultures, except Western culture.

It is telling to observe what that Western culture was striving to accomplish in America in 1607? There were two very different developments at the time: Smith’s Jamestown and the Quaker’s Plymouth Rock. They are worth examining, to reveal just how thoroughly Disney has betrayed the minds of their innocent and trusting audience.

Jamestown

Disney, and many politically correct history books neatly fail to mention that the Jamestown Europeans’ lasting purpose was to find useful goods that could be profitably traded in Europe. It was an incredible, extremely dangerous and costly venture. Difficulties were compounded by disagreements among the colonists, not to mention the depredations of Powhatan’s braves.

Several men in the Jamestown party did hope to find gold, wanting instant wealth and resenting the grinding work of basic survival. However it is disingenuous to give this less important aspect dominance over the known greater purpose of the colony. (It is also misleading to suggest land was taken from the Indians. The Indians had no principle of individual property ownership, they only defended a tribal Commons.) The real goal, the acquisition of values for peaceful trade in Europe, required planning and work —especially with thieving and violent natives as neighbors.

Of the first 105 Jamestown colonists under Edward Maria Wingfield, 65 died from starvation and illness in their first year (1607). Though more colonists arrived, they fared little better under Sir John Radcliffe. In the third year the colony grew to 500 new settlers. Captain Smith was being recognized as a man of superior judgment. and was elected to lead. Smith was masterful at keeping the Powhatan Indians at bay, and established strict rules, even requiring noblemen(!) to work or starve (foreshadowing the future American disregard for nobility).

Jamestown Glass House Ruins

Jamestown's relic glass-making hearth

Glassware production was a major purpose of the colonist’s mission. The King did not allow the use of timber on Crown land, and America’s endless forests would provide the fuel glass-makers needed. Though one can still see the ruins of a glass-making hearth at Jamestown, glass-making was not to be. The colonists soon learned of an enterprise that would make Jamestown a success. Because of the suitable climate and soils, tobacco grew marvelously. (Sir Walter Raleigh, who never set foot on mainland America, had nothing to do with tobacco’s European popularity.) In spite of Indian raids, the colony prospered.

Jamestown vs Plymouth

It is remarkable how preconceived notions are used to color facts. Those who hold religion in high regard generally attribute greater importance to the Plymouth Rock colonists, but they err.  The Quakers were not the first Americans.

The Jamestown crew, sailing on terrifyingly small boats, arrived in 1607, thirteen years before Plymouth Rock’s “Mayflower” of 1620.

Captain John Smith's Godspeed

Captain Smith's Godspeed (replica shown) carried 52 men!

The Jamestown colony grew quite rapidly. In 14 years (1621) it had 1400 settlers whereas, after the same number of years, Plymouth Rock (1634) had only 164. In 1634 Jamestown’s population was 5200!
(A detailed comparison of the two colonies can be found here )

The importance of the Jamestown settlement as a business adventure, and the industriousness and planning of the real Captain Smith (despite myths and rumors), cannot be overstated. They sought a New World future, working for success. In contrast, the Plymouth colony did not have the sense of industry and enterprise which enabled Jamestown to prosper. They retained the Old World religious views, attempted to establish an austere theocratic society, and prayed for a success their ideas could not possibly bring.

In spite of these facts, Christians tout Plymouth Rock as the more significant, successful colony. Their motivation flies in the face of reality.  They advocate the same religious ideals that nearly caused Plymouth Rock’s complete failure.  Worse, they work to push their beliefs as being the foundation of America, insisting that a religious foundation be ‘re’-instated.  The negative consequences would be catastrophic.

Historic Injustice

The re-writing of history evident in Disney’s Pocahontas has a similar motive to that of believers in Plymouth Rock.  Whereas Christians sought to promote the mystical power of Christianity, Disney’s Pocahontas promotes the environmentalists’ mystical awe of Nature. Indeed, Pocahontas’s “Grandmother Willow” is an anthropomorphic version of Gaia, the popular environmentalist “Goddess of the Earth”.

(Many Christians see a kind of ‘turf war’ in this, complaining that environmentalists are “worshiping the creation, not the Creator“.)

The one belief system standing in the way of the environmentalists and religionists is Western Culture. (That is, “Western Culture”as it originated with the Greeks and Aristotle, and as revived during The Enlightenment).   It is the Enlightenment ideas that encourage pursuit of material and spiritual happiness on Earth (even among Christians). It is Western Culture that, in daily practice, rejects faith/Gaia and tribe/community and respects reason and the individual. It was Western Culture that Pocahontas sought.

The moral sum of Disney’s Pocahontas concludes that the European Settlers and their modern industriousness are The Wicked, while a forest dwelling Pocahontas, her murderous father and tribe, and her native mysticism are The Good.

Thanks to Disney, the true Jamestown story is wildly corrupted, while the contrived story of Plymouth Rock remains secure. This Disney generation will not take a second look at Jamestown, believing they already know it.

Pocahontas and the real adventurers that so heroically opened up America deserve better.
So do your children.