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The myth of Pocahontas’ life does not compare very closely to the reality of what she experienced, but that does not mean that her story has any less significance. Pocahontas’ upbringing has many similarities to that of other young Powhatan females, but many of her experiences, particularly as she grows older, differ greatly from the lives of fellow young native women. Through the analysis of Camilla Townsend in her book Pocahontas and the Powhatan Dilemma, a more developed picture of her life is painted to show the ways in which she was both a typical and an exceptional young Powhatan woman.
Pocahontas’ early life reflects that of many of the girls around her. She received the name Amonute in a village ceremony and earned her commonly known name by the age of ten. She had the same expectations in helping with the work – she took care of younger children and worked alongside other women in farming, cooking, gathering, and cleaning. She listened to many of the same stories from older people in the village and learned about their gods and history too. In short, Pocahontas was immersed in the same culture as fellow Powhatan women because that is what she grew up in, regardless of her close relationship with the chief of so many groups.
Of course, Pocahontas’ life ultimately did include a number of experiences that typical Powhatan women would not have. At ten years old, she was sent as a representative of her father to the English fort and played a role in lots of the exchange that occurred between the opposing groups. In her first visit at that young age, she was successful in negotiating a prisoner’s release, something that many could not claim to do. She also experienced captivity as one of the colonizers’ most prized prisoners. Although kidnapping was supposedly common among her people, the experience she had is set apart because of her value to the English. Plus, she experienced knowing that her father did not offer enough to save her. On top of these, Pocahontas also accepted a new religion and name, likely as a fulfillment to a treaty. And finally, she went to England. As compared to the typical Powhatan women, most of these experiences were not very common. Her role in the dilemma between Powhatan groups and the English colonizers really makes her stand out. It makes her exceptional.
Altogether, Pocahontas’ story both aligns well and stands apart from the experiences of other women like her. Townsend illustrates this very well throughout her book, and while these similarities and differences are apparent, they build Pocahontas’ character in a realistic and human way.
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