Desktop version

Home arrow Geography arrow The Myths That Made America : An Introduction to American Studies


Shopworn by sentimentality, Pocahontas endures and stands with the most appealing of our saints. She has passed subtly into our folklore, where she lives as a popular fable.

Philip Young, “The Mother of Us All”

Having traced the Pocahontas myth through several centuries of US-American history and culture, we find the strategy of de-indigenization intricately intertwined with that of de-politicization. In a project of encyclopedic scope, Klaus Theweleit has examined the reverberations of the Pocahontas narrative as a prime example for the sexualization of violence in the context of colonization (cf. “You Give Me Fever"). Beyond all seemingly innocent configurations of romantic love and intercultural altruism, Theweleit argues (in an at times impressionistic and associative style) that it is the relationship between indigenous sexuality and the violence of the colonizer that is at the center of the Pocahontas narrative - a relationship that may be specifically US-American in some ways and in some aspects, yet also fits one of the most archetypal tropes in Western cultural history from antiquity to the present. From a transnational, hemispheric perspective, we can discuss Pocahontas alongside a figure such as Malinche, translator for Hernan Cortes during his conquest of Mexico, or in the context of similar colonial romantic plots that organize libidinal intercultural energies and validate patriarchal notions of white superiority in contexts of violent colonization. Even though Pocahontas may appear as only “half-raced” in versions of the myth that de-indigenize her, assimilate her, and claim her as a convert to Chris?tianity and Western ways, as a figure in colonial and colonizing plots she is nonetheless “fully sexed” (cf. “Pocahontas” at the U of Virginia webpage), i.e. sexualized and eroticized according to Western standards of ‘exotic beauty.’ On the other hand, as Indian princess and female noble savage, Pocahontas is one of the most prominent and most ubiquitous female figures in American children’s books (cf. Young, “Mother”) and to this day is one of the most popular Halloween costumes for girls; thus, for better or worse, she remains every schoolgirl’s (and schoolboy’s) dream.

< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >