Pocahontas – A Horrific Misrepresentation of Historical Fact

Topics: Pocahontas, Powhatan, John Rolfe Pages: 7 (2612 words) Published: December 10, 2013
Of the fifty three full length animated films produced by Walt Disney Animation Studio, only two have been based – albeit loosely – on real characters or events. Disney’s 1995 rendition of the story of Pocahontas is the first of the two historically grounded animations; historically based, however, does not necessarily mean accurate. In this instance, the film’s creators plucked a handful of factual events and the names of a handful of people associated with those events. The bulk of Pocahontas was designed with entertainment, rather than history, as the primary objective.

Pocahontas, in the form of her Disney counterpart, is the daughter of a Native American chieftain named Powhatan. A precocious child, she is a great source of worry for her father the chief; in order to both tame her and secure her place in the tribe, Chief Powhatan agrees on her behalf to a marriage proposal made by the tribe’s premier warrior, Kocoum. Pocahontas is uncertain if marriage to him will make her happy or not, because she feels like there must be more in store for her life than simply settling down with such a serious warrior as Kocoum and spending the rest of her days living in the typical manner of other women of her tribe. In order to assist with her decision, Pocahontas goes to visit Grandmother Willow – an anthropomorphic tree who questions her about her dreams and ambitions. Pocahontas tells Grandmother Willow about her father’s intent of betrothing her to Kocoum; she also makes mention of a very specific dream she has repeatedly experienced. In this dream, she sees an arrow which continually spins around in circles. After some consideration, Grandmother Willow suggests that Pocahontas should listen to the spirits around her for advice, and that perhaps the spinning arrow from her dream indicates a change in her life is imminent.

Meanwhile, a group of sailors and soldiers have left England and set sail to the New World. Led by a man named Governor Ratcliffe, they are intent on colonization of this uncharted territory as well as acquiring great riches and new resources and returning with them to the English empire – while filling the Governor’s coffers at the same time, naturally. He is depicted as a greedy, arrogant man; his opinion of the natives who supposedly inhabit the New World is made clear as he repeatedly refers to them as “bloodthirsty savages” and indicates they should be shot rather than dealt with as potential allies or trade partners. Along with his dog Percy, Ratcliffe expects to be treated like royalty by the remainder of the ship’s crew.

A captain named John Smith is among the many crewman sailing to the New World aboard the Governor’s ship. According to his compatriots, you “can’t fight Indians without John Smith.” He seems to have great renown amongst his peers; they are obviously willing to stand beside him and follow his command because he proves himself not only competent but also just and willing to go to great lengths in their defense. Unlike the Governor, John doesn’t treat the other members of the crew like slaves or low level employees but, rather, like equals – even though he obviously has the intelligence, wherewithal and charisma to be an excellent leader.

After more than four grueling months at sea, the English finally reach the New World. Their ship manages to find a deep enough location to safely dock; it just so happens this location is very near to the village of Pocahontas’ people. They establish a camp after which they receive a pep talk from Governor Ratcliffe. Essentially, this consists of Ratcliffe ordering the men to go out and acquire gold for him. He also demands they shoot any natives they encounter rather than attempting to communicate or establish any sort of trade connections. While exploring the area at Ratcliffe’s behest, John Smith becomes aware of Pocahontas’ presence. Against Ratcliffe’s wishes, Smith immediately attempts to strike up a conversation with her; although they...


Cited: Bellesiles, Michael A. Arming America. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2000. Print.
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"Pocahontas." Powhatan Museum of Indigenous Arts and Culture
n.d. Web. 9 Dec. 2013.
"Pocahontas (1995)." The Internet Move Database
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