Author Archives: jhedgpeth

Jennifer’s New Historic/Cultural Analysis of Pocahontas

“Pocahontas” is a film that is ingrained in many people’s childhoods, including my own. It is a Disney film that generated a princess who was very different from her earlier counterparts; she is a young Native American woman who, in the film, has to make a decision between either embracing her own culture or that of the European colonizers. “Pocahontas” is a very different portrayal of the real woman on whom the movie is based. The depiction of Pocahontas is very much shaped by the predominately Anglo-Saxon American writers who created the film and the character. For example, Pocahontas was written and drawn to seem older so that her historically inaccurate relationship with John Smith would be appropriate for audiences at the time. Even though this film depicts a story of a princess who is part of the oppressed group, Native Americans, pretty much the entire story is inaccurate in order to appeal to American audiences of 1995, when the movie was released. Despite how inaccurate this film is, it does tell a story about a part of history that saw the near eradication of an entire population of Native Americans. One of the first songs in the film describes the ‘savages’ that are already living in America; the movie never accentuates the mistakes that the colonizers made when they came to the country. However, the movie is for children and like most children born in the 1990’s, I loved this movie as well as other Disney Princess movies that come out before, and after, I was born. I should emphasize, like a New Historicist would, that I do have my own biases when it comes to the misrepresentation of minorities or oppressed people in film, television, and the media. I grew up in an area where I was usually one of few white kids in schools and the neighborhood where I lived. It was always normal for me to hear in school how white dominated media would portray minorities and particular ethnic groups negatively in order to contribute to the master narrative that is at play.

“Pocahontas” was created by a powerful film company that dominated the arena of children’s entertainment for what seems like my, and even my parent’s, entire lifetimes. This powerful film company, Disney, was headed by a white male and this perpetuates the master narrative because white males tend to be those in power. The people in power are able to manipulate the narrative that children are taught in schools and media. Pocahontas was a beloved character of mine because she seemed so free in the movie, even though she ended up leaving her family behind so that she could go off to England in the second installment, “Pocahontas II”, where she would essentially be put on display for the world to see. The movie greatly overlooks important aspects of what really happened to Pocahontas. This inaccuracy may or may not have been done intentionally, this is because it was cartoon movie made for children which spurred a cultural trend that somewhat exploited Native American culture. I remember my mother telling me that after “Pocahontas” was released there was hardly a child without a Pocahontas costume come the following Halloween. It seems as though the Disney franchise saw an untapped market in which they could create Pocahontas themed merchandise and exchange it for money, which is exactly what they did. “Pocahontas” is a cartoon movie that expresses many concerns people have with media ‘whitewashing’ or glossing over certain aspects of American history that were particularly brutal. Even though “Pocahontas” is a very fun and nostalgic movie for me there are still some glaring scenes in the film that make it hard not to critically evaluate through a new historicist lens.

Jennifer’s Bridge to the Blog

Today in class we talked about the Reader Response Criticism and the many different vocabulary words linking to it. Since there were so many places of focus we didn’t get to linger on one topic for very long, so I wanted to focus on our discussion of gaps and how the interpretation of these gaps in addition to the facts of the text impacts a reader’s perspective. In class I pointed out that in the Great Gatsby there are many gaps in detail involving Nick, as well as Gatsby. Gatsby himself can be viewed as an entire gap in the novel which is important to derive meaning from the novel because Gatsby is the title character and he drives a lot of the plot forward. The gaps in Gatsby’s background are helpful for delving more in to Reader Response theory because if an informed reader is looking at the different versions of Gatsby they get throughout the book they are going to make interpretations based on these gaps in the character background of Gatsby. I thought it was very interesting that certain Reader Response critics think that a book is viewed by the reader through a combination of facts and the interpretation of the gaps throughout the book. The combination of facts and interpretation is a big part of Reader Response theory because this theory focuses primarily on the reader. Personally, I like the Reader Response criticism because it allows the reader’s own interpretations, not necessarily background, but opinions on gaps or facts in the text that makes a reader’s own interpretations essential for breaking down a novel such as the Great Gatsby. I thought it was very interesting how the Great Gatsby was able to play in to the Reader Response conversation very easily, as well as how the idea of an individual reader’s interpretation can shape their own meaning from the text, not necessarily a very outlandish meaning but one that vary slightly from person to person.