Term Paper: Captain Smith by Pocahontas Antonio

Pages: 5 (1495 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 2  ·  Topic: Native Americans  ·  Buy This Paper

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[. . .] Greenough's sculpture therefore represented the defense of virtue, civilization, progress and white womanhood against the allegedly savage and mindless violence of the Indians. In reality, of course, they were the ones defending themselves from constant attacks and encroachments on their land, culture and way of life, which even the most obtuse and prejudiced white observers at the time must have grasped, but even so, more whites rationalized the destruction of the native peoples are part of the price of progress.

Capellano had based his sculpture on John Smith's own captivity narrative in the General History of Virginia (1624), although he very likely did not understand the cultural and political context any more than Smith had. Perhaps even less so, for Smith was a professional soldier and had seemed to intuit that he was involved in some type of ritual rather than having been actually captured and threatened with death. In this ceremony, he was held down by Powhatan's warriors he symbolically threatened to kill him until Pocahontas interceded with her father. For Powhatan, the main goal was to make a marriage alliance with the English colonists by offering his daughter to Smith, and later to the planter John Rolfe. Racial intermarriages like these were not particularly welcomed by whites at the time and were even less popular in the 19th Century, where they were not simply illegal, and this naturally caused whites to be somewhat confused about the politically correct standard of interpretation of this event and the sculpture. Some critics and viewers simply dismissed or ignored as not quite fitting into the overall narrative about the relentless drive of white civilization, and consigned it to a historical dead end. On the other hand, given the prevailing idealism and Romanticism of the period, whites could also imagine that "romantic feelings were at the root of her heroism," at least in highly embellished and sentimentalized versions of the narrative (Tilton 58). At the same time, fear of sex between races and miscegenation were also extreme at this time, as reflected in Cooper's novels, where only the 'whitest' characters were permitted to marry and reproduce at the end. These arranged marriages between Pocahontas and Smith -- and later Wolfe -- had to be downplayed or forgotten. Therefore, the most common interpretation of Capellano's sculpture was the white male fantasy of "the irresistible sexual attractiveness of their charismatic leaders" by overawed Indian girls like Pocahontas (Tilton 85). Her feminine nature and virtues led her to risk her own life for an obviously superior specimen like Smith, "while the embrace of the European and his ways leads to cultural annihilation through assimilation" (Scheckel 139).

Having Pocahontas recognize and accept the superiority of Smith, as the representative and masculine archetype of a superior white civilization, permitted a sculpture like The Preservation of Captain Smith by Pocahontas to exist comfortable within the narratives and myths embraced by most whites in 19th Century America. They accepted it as a given that their civilization was superior and the native tribes were 'in the way' of progress, and that they would have to be defeated, destroyed and confined to reservations. Most Indians would not physically survive this process, but those who did would have to abandon their own languages and cultures and adapt those of the whites. On this way, Pocahontas represented and Indian who seemed to be a little more clever and farsighted than expected in bowing down to the inevitable, choosing assimilation and imitation rather than destruction. Although whites regarded a man like Smith, or any other pioneer heroes such Daniel Boone, as superior in every way to the Indians, they were uncomfortable with the assimilation idea carried so far as intermarriage and production of 'mixed' offspring. Therefore, they would have to ignore or minimize those implications in the sculpture or the overall story of John Smith, in favor of a kind of surrender and assimilation that did not cross those sexual boundaries but still recognized the overwhelming power and attractiveness of white European civilization in general.

WORKS CITED

Fryd, Vivien Green. "Two Sculptures for the Capitol" in Mary Ann Calo (ed). Critical Issues in American Art: A Book of Readings. Perseus Books, 1998: 93-108.

Scheckel, Susan. The Insistence of the Indian: Race and Nationalism in Nineteenth-Century American Culture. Princeton… [END OF PREVIEW]

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