73 John Smith the Imperialist

Willow Moulton

After reading both the assigned readings on postcolonialism, I watched the 1995 film Pocahontas. And I definitely feel like I have a better understanding now. This movie is the perfect example for a postcolonial critique. We all know the story of how the English settlers came onto Pocahontas’ land in 1607 to take over the land and form the colony Jamestown: an example of colonialism in its height. In the Rivkin and Ryan text, Ania Loomba defines colonialism as, “the conquest and control of other people’s land and goods (1101). This is exactly what these English settlers were doing under King James I. They were specifically there for the gold. And as we know from Loomba’s article, “[i]n whichever direction human beings and materials travelled, the profits always flowed back into the so-called ‘mother country” (1101).

More importantly, this movie is the perfect example of imperialism. My working definition of imperialism is the taking over a country through diplomacy or military force. The English settlers planned to get the indigenous land and gold through violence. They referred to indigenous peoples as savages and referred to the land they were taking over as the ‘new world.’ In the beginning of the movie when the men are boarding the ship to head to Virginia, Thomas says, “[t]his new world’s gonna be great, John. I’m gonna get a pile of gold, build me a big house, and if any Indian tries to stop me, I’ll blast him” (Pocahontas 5:00-5:07). I think it is important to note the racism amongst the imperialism in this movie. It creates a bigger kind of imperialism—a racist imperialism, if you will. As Loomba’s article states:

“..Mr. Singh, towards the tribals replicates colonialist views of non- Western peoples—to him, they are mysterious, superstitious, uncivilized, backward. In other words, they are like children who need to be brought in line with the rest of the country” (1105).

This quote reminds me of the scene in Pocahontas when Pocahontas and John Smith first come in contact. When John Smith is telling Pocahontas about London, he says that she will see buildings on her land. He says, “[w]e’ll show your people how to use this land properly” (Pocahontas 38:22). And when Pocahontas tells him that they don’t need any better he tells her she only thinks that because she doesn’t know any better. This is an example of racist imperialism/ colonialism. There is so much ignorance. John Smith refers to Pocahontas’ people as savages and of course, she is offended. Then he tries to help himself by explaining that it is just a word for uncivilized people. Not much better, if you ask me.

Loomba states that it is easier to use the term postcolonialism because it would include people displaced by colonialism such as the indigenous peoples represented in this movie (1106). But after looking at the many different arguments against postcolonialism being an acceptable concept, it is hard for me to believe that anywhere in this world is post.


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The Student Theorist: An Open Handbook of Collective College Theory Copyright © 2018 by Willow Moulton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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