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Walt Disney’s Pocahontas is a journey into a realm of one’s imagination, which is captivating, disturbing, yet familiar all at the same time. These realms are discovered by examining them using the keys of universal patterns, literary theories, and imagination. For the first time, Disney Productions produces a movie that is entirely built upon an adult female, let alone a woman of colour entitled, Pocahontas. The animated movie is supposedly based on a true story of a young Powhatan Native girl named Pocahontas who falls in love with John Smith, an English colonizer. In the making of this movie, Disney attempts to recreate the historical events that took place in the early 17th century of Europeans settling in Jamestown, however they do not portray the accurate story. She experiences struggles when people force her to choose her path, which shapes her into the worthy hero she is. She creates tranquility in her native land by uniting the English and the Powhatan Indian. Pocahontas risks being exiled from her home because she warns the English men of how Chief Powanan, Pocahontas’ father is planning an attack. Through examining Joseph Cambell’s Monomyth and Carl Jung’s Archetypes, literary theories such as Postcolonialism and Feminism, and Northrope Frye’s Motive For Metaphor and Sigmund Freuds’ Psychoanalytic Criticism, the realms of one’s divination are found.
Pocahontas is the foremost epitome of a hero. Joseph Cambell, an American psychologist and professor said, “A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself,” which characterizes Pocahontas as a hero. Joseph Cambell is ultimately known for his world famous book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. He elucidates the theory of fabled structures of the journey of the archetypal hero. In his research, Cambell discovers numerous conventional patterns that traces back to hero myths, stories, and folklore throughout the world. Cambell states, “the standard path of the mythological adventure of the hero is a magnification of the formula represented in the rites of passage: separation-initiation-return: which might be named the nuclear unit of the monomyth”. He calls his framework, The Monomyth, which is a universal pattern of action that is in essence of mythological tales (Campbell, Joseph). The first stage of action that tries to separate the protagonist from the known world is when the protagonist is being called to an adventure. In Pocahontas, Pocahontas’ call to adventure is when her father, Chief Powhatan, informs her that Kocoum, a native warrior, has requested for her hand in marriage and that she must choose her own path. Pocahontas is faces a choice: to either accept or deny it. The second stage, the refusal of the quest is shown when the protagonist refuses to accept the call. This is seen when she denies to marry Kocoum, as she says she wants something different. The third stage of accepting the call is portrayed when Pocahontas chooses to sail the rapid rivers, which represents adventure and risk, rather than choosing the steady waters, depicting Kocoum and marriage. Pocahontas muses over how the water is anything but steady as she steps into the water, “he [father] wants me to be steady like the river… but it’s not steady at all”. She is trying to get her inner emotions out by saying that the water is always changing and flowing. This means that life manifest change and yet life manages to continuously flow. People can change correspondingly, as they can change their decisions, desires, paths, and their minds, while they continue to flow with the tides. The symbol for the Hero’s journey of water is being illustrated, which represents the rebirth of Pocahontas into finding herself and her true ego, one’s identity in the conscious mind. The phase of initiation begins with the hero entering the unknown by crossing the first threshold and this appears when Pocahontas follows her heart and sees the ship of the English men. She tries to spying on them with her animal companions, Flit and Meeko, while having some close encounters. This is a type of the archetype theory by psychologist Carl Jung. Archetypes are recurring universal pattern that emerges from the collective unconsciousness and is expressed in literary works and myths (Jung, Carl). Flit and Meeko represent allies of Pocahontas, as the animals are seen as her sidekick. Meeko is also seen as the trickster because his behaviour causes a lot of trouble for Pocahontas. Next, a supernatural aid guides the hero to success. As Campbell says, “One has only to know and trust, and the ageless guardians will appear” (Campbell, Joseph). For Pocahontas, her supernatural aid is her Grandmother Willow, a conscious and wise willow tree that serves as a mentor to her. The archetype of the old, wise woman and mentor is displayed. Grandmother Willow is considered to be as an ancient and wise presence that assists Pocahontas by showing what Pocahontas needs in order to finish the quest. Grandmother Willow symbolizes knowledge because she is portrayed as a tree. When Pocahontas asks Grandmother Willow for guidance, she replies, “All around you are spirits, child. They live in the earth, the water, the sky. If you listen, they will guide you”. Pocahontas uses the advice by listening to her surroundings with her heart to understand what the spirits are telling her. Subsequently, Pocahontas enters the belly of the whale, a phase of the hero’s journey termed as the preparation or rebirth stage, when she spies on the English men once again and gets caught by one of them, named John Smith. Things cannot go back to how they were before, as John Smith finds her. By and by, the phase of meeting with the goddess appears when Pocahontas interacts with John Smith instead of choosing to run away and falls in love with him. The roads of trials are depicted when the hero foresees a series of ordeals that make them stronger. This is seen when Pocahontas persistently disobeys her father, Chief Powatan, in order to follow her path. One of the English settlers named Thomas discovers that John is with Pocahontas and follows them. But then Pocahontas and John are caught by Kococum, and tries to attack John. Frightened by this, Thomas shoots Kocoum. Her father and the Natives decide to fight the English men because of their actions and Pocahontas tries to get her father to reconsider his thoughts on the men. The archetype of the woman of tempers is shown when Pocahontas’ friend Nakoma attempts to stop her from going with John Smith and does not support her (Jung, Carl). The transformation of Pocahontas tries to save John Smith when he is captured and is death sentenced by the Natives. The apotheosis is shown when she is hurt because Thomas kills Kocoum and John got captured. She feels that everything would have been alright if the two have never met. When John is about to get killed, Pocahontas defends the English men and saves John Smith by rebelling against her father. Following, atonement with the father is illustrated when Chief Powatan and Pocahontas reconcile with each other and understand each others’ mistakes. Furthermore, Pocahontas attains the ultimate boon when Chief Powatan shows the sign of peace to the English men after she saves John’s life. Peace is created when they decide not to fight. Next, crossing the return threshold is depicted when the English and the Natives live in tranquility as they see the possibility of getting along with each other. Pocahontas becomes a master of two worlds when she achieves a balance between the English and the Native, as they can get along and is loved among both. Pocahontas returns with the elixir and has the freedom to live freely as she chooses her own path. Through Joseph Cambell’s Monomyth and Carl Jung’s Archetypes the realms of Pocahontas can be explicitly examined.
When using different theories to analyze work, one may uncover the truth about the realms. Pocahontas shows hints of post colonialism and feminism. Post colonialism is the political and social supremacy and domination of land and its citizens by a foreign power. It also looks at issues of power, economics, religion, and culture. “Savages, savages!”, cry the English colonizers when they see the Native Americans. This exemplifies the tensions of postcolonialism that is present in the film. Disney tries to romanticize the life of Native Americans in this movie. Disney does not portray the accurate story and tries to rewrite the story making it seem like a magically romantic fairytale, but in reality it is a tale of tragedy and heartbreak. The true story of Pocahontas is about a 10 year old Native girl who gets abducted, raped, and allegedly murdered by the English colonizers. Disney tends to glorify their way of life and their interactions with the English men, while trying to create an inaccurate love story between a white man and a Native woman. The real Pocahontas did not want anything to do with the men who were invading and robbing her territory and her culture. But the animated Pocahontas’ life has been sensationalized and romanticized. In the movie, when the English men barge in, Radcliff, the governor tells John Smith, “I’m counting on you… to make sure those filthy heathens don’t disrupt our mission”. The English men look up to, Eurocentrism, a belief that Europeans are superior than any other culture. The Eurocentric prejudice define the Native Americans as others, which objectifies and dehumanizes the tribe in order to oppress, dominate, and take over their land. The English men construct the Powhatan tribe as intrinsically foreign from and alien to oneself. They marginalize them and characterize their differences as flaws, thus making the English men superior to the Natives. The settlers characterize the Natives as others because they do not have the advanced technology and knowledge. And so, the settlers have the advantage in colonizing the Native Americans’ land. While Radicliff hunts for gold, he says, “This is a land I can claim, a land I can tame”. The script is written in a way where the English men are depicted as heroes because of their eagerness to ‘help’ the Powhatans, but it actually ruins the lives of the Natives. They justify their actions by educating them, imperializing them, and polishing their cultures, but this erosion creates genocide of Native Americans. In the arrival of the settlers, they refer the Powahatans’ territory as a New World, where they can discipline its people and use their resources to prosper. The film displays the indigenous peoples as ‘savages,’ ‘filthy heathens,’ and ‘injuns.’ When Pocahontas first encounters John Smith, he says, “We’ll show your people how to use this land properly”(Gabriel and Erick). John Smith says that he will help the Natives by teaching them how to utilize their land correctly and how to make the most of it. He also mentions that savage is just a term to describe people who are uncivilized. John tries to convince Pocahontas to the ideology that civilization is accepted and appropriate way to live. Following, feminism is the ideology that women and men should be equal. In Pocahontas, Pocahontas’ father tells her that she must marry another Native man named Kocoum because a husband makes a woman. The image of public and private spheres are endorsed when the Native men go out on adventures and hunt for animals, while women have to stay home to take care of the children and do the domestic work. The gender roles of femininity and masculinity are displayed when the women in the tribe have to stay in the village and not speak until spoken to, and when men are permitted to give their opinions and hunt outside of the villages. Pocahontas is being subaltern as she is a colonized woman that is being marginalized. The viewpoint of these criticisms helps one understand the truth about a literary piece of art.
Pocahontas is a film that truly connects the attribution of souls to one’s surroundings. Northrope Frye, a Canadian literary theorist said, “Nature is inside art as its content, not outside as its model”. Pocahontas touches upon the basis of animism, a belief that everything has a spirit or soul including animals, mountains, and rivers. Northrope Frye’s Motive for Metaphor discusses the study of literature and the exposition of the human experience. He distinguishes between how people use literature objectively and practically, while using their imagination. Frye divides languages into three levels: Language of consciousness or awareness, which states that science accepts all observations without modification; Practical language of applied arts and sciences, where science and art intertwine to create modifications based on actions; and Language of imagination, where language endorses the potential ability of establishing reasonable representations of human experiences. The Motive for Metaphor is to form and create a balance of relationships between spiritual experiences and superficial worlds. The depiction of spirituality and imagination is present in Pocahontas’ culture and in their beliefs of animism and cosmocentrism. This is significant because Pocahontas and her Native tribe try to work with the land in a way where they respect it and look after all the customs, lands, and waters. The Natives seek to enhance the standard in the community by bringing spiritual change. On the other hand, the colonizers, Radicliff and his men, try to conquer and take over the land, which completely contradicts the Powhatan tribes beliefs and views. This shows the great importance of spirituality in a world where Indigenous spirituality is conserved and appreciated. The movie also corresponds to the view of cosmocentric, a belief that the natural state of the universe should be preserved and cherished. This is important because Pocahontas addresses the survival of the Indigenous cultures and how it should be maintained and treasured. Pocahontas sings to John Smith, “But I know every rock and tree and creature has a life, has a spirit, has a name” (Gabriel and Erick). The word animism goes big on animals, as Pocahontas has her animal companions, Flit and Meeko. Flit is a friendly but obstinate hummingbird that is curious about the world around him, while Meeko is a childish and naughty raccoon who finds pleasure in stealing other’s food. Both are distinctly different with their unique personalities and peculiar behaviors. The animal companions in Pocahontas all have a life, a spirit, and a name, just as she states. The animals are depicted in the movie can be used as symbols, for example Meeko represents the settlers and Flit represents the Powhatan tribe. This is because just like Meeko steals food without much thought, the settlers steal and raid the land without taking into consideration of its citizens. And just like Flit, is disturbed when Meeko steals his food and pesters him, the Powhatan tribe are disturbed by the settlers. The connection between inner experiences and the external worlds is found in the realms of one’s imagination through examining Indigenous cultures. The experience of Indigenous cultures is shown through the use of Indigenous spirituality and its key terms: animism and cosmocentrism. Moreover, Sigmund Freud is the father of psychoanalysis and is known for his work on the unconscious mind and analysis of dreams. Freud argues that people develop defenses to keep problems buried in the unconscious mind (Freud, Sigmund). In the movie, Pocahontas goes to see Grandmother Willow for assistance on her path and to seek some information about her recurring dream she has. Her dream is about her running through the woods while an arrow is pointed towards her. She explains, “right there is an arrow. As I look at it, it starts to spin faster and faster until it stops.” This dream relates to her quest, as her mind is trying to make sense of her path. The spinning arrow can be an allusion to John Smith and the arrow can symbolize Pocahontas’ undetermined path. The arrow stopping could mean Pocahontas ultimately determining her path. It can also represent the events that are put into motion, like the dispute between the settlers and the Powhatan tribe. Pocahontas’ unconsciousness mind identifies her wishes to go on a journey and her desires to choose her own path. Her aspirations become displaced and repressed, as her superego is so strong it makes her dream in symbols. Through Frye’s A Motive for Metaphor and Freud’s Psychological Mechanisms, the movie Pocahontas can be thoroughly analyzed.
Pocahontas is an expedition that defines the natural phenomena of the world by looking at different aspects of criticism. By exploring the movie through Joseph Cambell’s Monomyth and Carl Jung’s Archetypes, literary theories of Postcolonialism and Feminism, and Northrope Frye’s Motive For Metaphor and Sigmund Freud’s Psychoanalytic Criticism, the truth of one’s imagination is found. As Pocahontas say, “Can you paint with all the colour of the wind.” This demonstrates how one can see life from everyone’s perspective.
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