In regards to American history, there are many pivotal moments which contributed to how the United States came to be the country that it is today. Among these moments is the English invasion and settlement of the indigenous American tribes and lands. The book “Pocahontas and the Powhatan Dilemma” focuses on the issues that were faced by Pocahontas and the members of the Powhatan tribe during the English conquest of her tribe’s ancestral lands. This book focuses, in great detail, on how Pocahontas, her father Powhatan, and the rest of their tribe stood both in opposition and cooperation to preserve their way of life and their culture. New World is a place of mutual discovery that forces human beings to imagine themselves and their place in the world in new ways. Moreover, the term “world” implies not just a physical place, but also a cultural place. With this working definition in mind, did Pocahontas live in a New World? As a result of the English opposition and the means through which Pocahontas’s life changed as a result of her exposure to the colonists, the argument can be made that she was living in a new world, far detached from the one that she had known.
The intriguing aspect regarding this book is in the fact that it’s told entirely from the perspective of those around Pocahontas during this time, as there was no written, known record that she herself left. As a result, this book stands as a testament of not just her strength but of the strength of her people and the way in which they fought to defend and protect the means through which they had lived and developed. The book itself presents Pocahontas and her people as individuals who were understandably not obedient proponents of the English culture or the imperialistic nature of the English government.1
Yet, the English monarchy presented a very difficult foe for the Powhatan people to handle and fend off. Because of this, the Powhatan tribe was forced to assess and select the battles they wished to fight, in order to better preserve themselves against such an aggressive force and enemy. 1 There was a paradoxical nature to the way in which the Powhatan tribe attempted to interact with the English settlers, and this is exhibited in the book in a way which depicts the Powhatan people, and Pocahontas by extension, as brave and intelligent individuals. Pocahontas herself was forced to sacrifice much in an attempt to stave off the interests of the English people and protect them. Over the course of the book, Townsend uses the platform of the novel to analyze life from the perspective that Pocahontas would have viewed it.1 One of the ways in which Townsend analyzes Pocahontas’ value among her people is in the way that she examines the overall expectations that Pocahontas would have had placed upon her.
This is due to her status as the daughter of King Powhatan, who happened to be the most prominent and powerful chief holding dominion over 30 different tribes. Pocahontas, as Townsend discusses, was one of dozens of children which were fathered by the king. 1 Despite this, Pocahontas was still regarded as royalty and her status as the king’s daughter held highly by her people. She is presented as a characterization of her people– strong, athletic and grown in a society which was well-fed, happy and healthy.1 Despite popularly held beliefs and depictions, Pocahontas was only the age of nine when the English came to settle the Jamestown area.
Townsend uses this introduction to show the dichotomy between the two institutions and cultures, and the overall intelligent nature of the Native American people. The society that the Powhatans had crafted was one which had enjoyed a relatively stable existence until the emergence of the English colonists. Given the introduction of these individuals, there was much in terms of change that the Powhatans were forced to experience.1 Through engagement, resistance and manipulation, the Native Americans were largely able to resist the advances of English territorial acclimation and find ways to maintain their cultural and political independence– despite this, though, there were many adaptations that they were forced to make and their way of life was compromised in many ways. This is especially true of Pocahontas.
The depiction of Pocahontas in this novel does much to combat the nature of the stereotypes which surround her– rather than show her as a willing admirer of the English culture and someone who wanted to adapt to the customs and cultures of the Europeans, Townsend depicts Pocahontas as a woman who was invested in the betterment of her people as well as someone who was willing to compromise her own safety and well-being to ensure their preservation and safety. 1 There were many instances in which the English were unable to provide themselves with means to create long-lasting, self-sustaining colonies and ways of life. As a result, it was often the case that the English settlers resorted to attacking and plundering the natives and their villages as a means to survive and continue their colonial expansion. This caused a sense of resentment to form between the two parties and as a result of the actions of the colonists, the Powhatans were forced to constantly adapt from the happy, healthy existence and culture they had built.
Townsend does much to showcase this in the novel, as well as the motivations that the English had in regards to their constant expansion. Throughout the novel, it’s abundantly clear as to the status of the Powhatan and the means through which they and the English colonists gain power are similar. Both value the concept of marriage as a representation and extension of power through cultural ties. 1 By the fifth chapter, Pocahontas is described to have been married off at age 12 to a Powhatan warrior by the name of Kocoom. As of the year 1613, she is captured by Captain Argall and later married to John Rolfe, another English colonist. In this instance, her life is subjected to much change and she is forced into a very different world as she is forced to leave the only home she’d known and move abroad to England.
The remainder of her life is spent in London where she lives as the wife of John Rolfe. The sacrifices that she made as a representation of the cultural standards and as a means of appeasement for the Powhatans largely represent both her tenacity as an individual and the means through which the Powhatan people were able to preserve themselves against the advancements of the English settlers. Yet, despite their attempts to ward off the colonists, the tribes still suffered two large massacres at the hands of the colonists in the years 1622 and 1644. 1 The overall nature of the culture and the environment that Pocahontas lived in after the invasion of the settlers was one which required much in terms of sacrifice on her part.
This novel does much to represent the tenacity of the Powhatan culture and people in the face of the tremendous adversity that was the English colonists, as well as the overall ability and reserve of Pocahontas to ensure the safety of her people even through personal sacrifice. Overall, the lengths to which the Powhatans went to preserve themselves and their cunning and tenacity while doing so highlights the strained relationship between the English colonists, as well as the intelligence and resolve of the natives even in the dire times that they faced. Pocahontas is a stark representation of this tenacity and as a result of the conditions she was forced to experience, it can be said that Pocahontas lived in a far different world than the one her people had known. This new world was a paradigm shift from the ways of the old one and embodied the conflict and integration of the English culture into America.