Smith vs. Cabeza de Vaca

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  • Topic: Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, India, Different
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  • Published : October 10, 2012
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Both Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca and John Smith hold different attitudes regarding their accounts of Indian life. The difference in attitudes may have resulted from the difference in treatments that each man received while in captivity.

De Vaca’s experience is a humbling one. His account of Indian life is written in a thoughtful manner, and he describes the Indians kindly. While he describes his captivity as “melancholy and wretched” (De Vaca 34), it’s clear that he harbors no ill feelings towards the Indians. He states that he and his men were treated well, that they lived as “free agents” (De Vaca 32) and tried to accustom themselves to Indian life. He’s highly observant of the Indian life. He records the Indian lifestyles in detail; his account reads more like a cultural anthropology study. His account of Indian life ends on a sympathetic note towards the Indians especially after he realizes his misjudgment of the Christians. “We often misjudge the motives of men,” de Vaca writes, “We thought we had effected the Indians’ liberty, when the Christians were but poising to pounce (De Vaca 36).”

Smith, on the other hand, describes his account in a boastful manner. His account of Indian life reads like a fantastic adventure novel in which he is the glorified hero. He continuously refers to the Indians as “savages” (Smith 46) or “barbarians” (Smith 48) throughout his account. He even describes them as “devils” (Smith 51). At one point, he thinks that the Indians are trying to “fat him to eat him” (Smith 50). Smith’s account is so incredibly dramatic that he expects “every hour to be put to one death or other” (Smith 52). Also, the incident with Pocahontas saving Smith appears to be highly romanticized. Smith’s manner of writing, in which he writes of himself in the third person, only adds to the boastful tone of this account. It makes the entire account seem impersonal. It also makes Smith appear self-important and frivolous.

One can only speculate on why...
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