A Summary of the Book "Pocahontas"

by Dan Harkins
The Europeans who settled in Virginia made friends with the Powhatans.

The Europeans who settled in Virginia made friends with the Powhatans.

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The book "Pocahontas," published in 2003 by Harcourt Books, was written by acclaimed children's novelist and Apenaki Indian Joseph Bruchac, who has rooted many of his 70-plus fiction and non-fiction books in the Native American experience. In 2000, he wrote a book about a famous female Indian guide, "Sacajawea." Though recommended for readers 12 and up, "Pocahontas," and all of Bruchac's other books, are accessible to anyone.

Different Views

Bruchac alternates the narrators in the chapters of "Pocahontas" between the titular character, the daughter of the Powhatan chief, and Joseph Smith, who arrived in 1607 to colonize the city that today is Jamestown, Va. He used the same narrative device in "Sacajawea," switching between the famous Shohsone woman and Captain William Clark during the famous Lewis and Clark expedition to the Pacific Ocean. Pocahontas was 11 when Smith arrived in the western hemisphere and becomes a woman during the course of the book.

Blending of Views

This intermingling of the book's points of view allows the reader to see both sides of the story: how Pocahontas and the Powhatan natives were enthralled with the powerful technological advances brought by the "Coatmen" and how those Coatmen viewed the native people and the enormity of the struggle that lay ahead. By the end of the book, through the urgings of Pocahontas to her father, the Great Chief Mamanatowic, the Powhatans help the settlers survive after the ships that brought them there had returned to Europe, leaving them stranded in a strange new land.

Early Experience

The book "Pocahontas" delves deeply into the lives of the early colonists and native inhabitants, through research from the diaries of John Smith and other historical documents. When it's Smith's turn to talk, the reader learns about the colonists' beliefs and struggles to assimilate, including the hierarchies that developed between those ready to work hard and those who preferred to subjugate others to do all the work. Pocahontas' narration explores the same hierarchies that existed among the Powhatans, who were fiercely split between accepting their sudden visitors and fearing and loathing them.

Similarities

Just like the Europeans, the Powhatans had a god, named Okeus, and priests who taught Okeus' laws. According to Burchac, Okeus was responsible for keeping an eye on human lives and punishing wrongdoing. "Pocahontas" shows how, despite different names and stories attached to ideological beliefs originating from far different areas of the globe, the lives of the Powhatans and the Europeans were far more alike than different. In the end, for example, the Powhatan people accept Smith and the colonists, despite blood already being spilled, but only in exchange for firepower and better tools. These happy-ending encounters, of course, were far less frequent thereafter.

About the Author

Dan Harkins has been a full-time journalist since 1997. Prior to working in the alternative press, he served as a staff writer and editor for daily publications such as the "St. Petersburg Times" and "Elyria Chronicle-Telegram." Harkins holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from the University of South Florida.

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