The Conquest of America by Tzvetan Todorov

Topics: Aztec, Spanish colonization of the Americas, Bartolomé de las Casas Pages: 10 (3707 words) Published: November 11, 2010
The Conquest of America
In the book The Conquest of America by Tzvetan Todorov, Todorov brings about an interesting look into the expeditions of Columbus, based on Columbus’ own writings. Initially, one can see Columbus nearly overwhelmed by the beauty of these lands that he has encountered. He creates vivid pictures that stand out in the imagination, colored by a "marvelous" descriptive style. Todorov gives us an interpretation of Columbus’ discovery of America, and the Spaniards’ subsequent conquest, colonization, and destruction of pre-Columbian cultures in Mexico and the Caribbean. Tzvetan Todorov examines the beliefs and behavior of the Spanish conquistadors and of the Aztecs. Initially, I thought of Columbus as someone primarily seeking gold for the glory of the King and Queen. This is a driving force, primarily because the gold will serve as a future funding for the grand ideas of Columbus. It is interesting to consider that one of the primary goals, especially when encountering the native population, is the conversion to the Christian faith for the glory of God. God and money go hand in hand in Columbus’ exploration. Crimes against humanity in the name of any god seem to be a constant part of the human psyche. Columbus lays claim to any island he can see, claiming it for the glory of God and the King and Queen. Everything instantly becomes property of the Spanish Empire. The natives initially have no understanding of the events that Columbus and his entourage perform when they lay claim to a new land. Religious dedication and a greed for gold caused Columbus to exaggerate his claims of the amount of gold available and the cowardly nature of the native population. Columbus describes the natives in near animal or beast of burden terms, because of the nature of the culture of the natives. The natives are dressed simply, if dressed at all, and have no religion that is apparent to Columbus. Based on first appearances, these people should be easily conquered and ready for conversion to the Christian Faith. Sometimes it is uncomfortable to look back through history and see the atrocities that have been committed by those that are thought of as civilized. The "advanced" civilizations of Columbus’ age were enlightened, making great progress in the sciences and humanities, but only according to their narrow world view. They were fully engaged in an air of cultural and moral supremacy. Those that were different, in dress, culture, or religious beliefs, were beneath them and destined to be conquered or converted. So many atrocities were committed in the name of God, especially in the name of Jesus Christ. Todorov delves deeply into the dark consequences (intended and unintended) of the European discovery of the Americas and represents the first important study of the influence of religious belief on the interactions beginning with Columbus with the savage “Other.” Todorov puts forth one way of linking communication and conquest when he argued that Europeans conquered the Amerindians through their superior ability to understand the “Other.” More generally, he contended that western Europeans had a general “superiority in human communication,” demonstrated by the fact that they used alphabetic writing (Todorov 251). For Todorov, Europeans displayed “remarkable qualities of flexibility and improvisation,” characteristics that allowed them to be more effective in imposing their ways of life on others (Todorov 247–8). They were so successful, Todorov argues, that in the centuries following the initial encounter between Europeans and Amerindians, Europeans were able to gradually assimilate the “Other” and eliminate alterity. While many people attempt to dismiss the religious aspect of this relationship, but as Todorov shows, it is central to understanding the dynamics of European conquest and the ultimate fate of the "New World's" native inhabitants. Both in his letters and...
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