Instructor Betsy Toms
6 September 2011
Columbus vs. Cabeza de Vaca
The Columbus Letter and The Narrative of Cabeza de Vaca differ in many ways. The main dissimilarity is in the motivations of each of these great explorers. Both accounts are about the New World and its inhabitants but each tells a vastly different story. Columbus’s wrote his letter to gain further support for exploration of the new land while Cabeza de Vaca writes about the difficulties he and the natives experienced during the years he was there. Columbus’s motivation was greed and power, for himself and the king. Cabeza de Vaca motive is less defined, he wished to be more of a vessel to “avail [his] highness” and to receive recognition or reward for all the hardships he was forced to endure (77). Columbus greatly exaggerated the account of his trip to the New World. He writes about a great new land that is “very fertile to a limitless degree” (69) while Cabeza de Vaca often tells of having to eat “prickly pears” and his “hunger never having given [him] leisure to choose” (83). By his own admission, Columbus sets himself up as a man “from heaven” to control the “very marvelously timorous” people he encountered (70). He assures the king that the land he has found holds great “mines of metals”, rivers that contained gold, “honey”, “many spices”, and people who are naked with no weapons (70). He contradicts himself about the state of the “mines” by saying that the Indian people have no “iron or steel or weapons, nor are they fitted to use them” (70). What would they have possibly done with all that gold and minerals if it really existed? Columbus’s reference to an unseen island called “Avan” with “people born with tails” is an oddity. Perhaps he added this as another little nugget to entice the King to support his endeavors. Who would not want to see a whole island worth of people “born with tails” (71)? His arrogance shows in his belief that the natives would not...
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