Book Review

Historical accounts are valuable ones. However, certain publications may be wrong. Camilla Townsend’s book Pocahontas and the Powhatan Dilemma is a limited source of mostly valid information about a famous Indian princess Pocahontas and the difficulties that the Native Americans had during the British colonization in Jamestown, Virginia. It illuminates the critical issue of her father Powhatan’s and her stratagem towards the occupants. Townsend proves that Pocahontas was not only mere admirer of British civilization, but she was also courageous enough to have her own prospects for better future of her people. However, this does not necessarily mean that the heroine did not worship British men and authority.

Camilla Townsend has well-grounded qualifications for writing Pocahontas and the Powhatan Dilemma. Camilla was an associate professor teaching history at Colgate University, Hamilton, New York until 2006. Since 2006, she teaches as Ph.D. at Rutgers University such courses as Early and Modern Native American Histories, American History PDR I, and First Contact/Borderland. Her famous publications account to American Indian History, Tales of Two Cities, Malintzin’s Choices, Here in This Year, and Pocahontas and the Powhatan Dilemma. Among Townsend’s awards there are American Association of University Woman Fellowship (1994) and Guddenheim Fellowship (2010). She is deeply immersed in the 16th and 17th century pieces of writing left by Indians as well as in relationships between them and European people throughout the inter-American region.

In the preface to the book, the writer shows her Pro-Indian attitude toward the researched topic clearly. She prefers unveiling-myths-approach in researching the Pocahontas’ life. For example, the historian discredits the well-known tall tale of Captain John Smith which says that Pocahontas threw herself in front of her father in order to save Smith’s life because she loved him. According to Townsend, “in reality, Pocahontas ended the conflict when she converted to Christianity and married a colonist John Rolfe” (Townsend 10). The author uses all her qualifications to prove that Pocahontas is a woman worth admiring.

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Townsend covers the essential period of time in this book. Pocahontas’ life described in this publication may be framed within seventeenth century, a time of the first battles between Europeans and American Indians in the U.S. At those times, Europeans were looking for lands to expand their territories and, thus, were aimed at conquering other weaker in technological sense nations. Despite the fact that Indians were one of such societies, they were not illiterate or foolish. The indigenous people realized their significant role in the ongoing socio-economical and geopolitical battle.

The writer also embraces many topics related to the life of Pocahontas until her death in the age of twenty years. The major theme is a deliberate confrontation between the Indians and British colonizers. The author describes Native Americans as intelligent, conscious of their lack of resources, determines to fight against the military force of colonizing British people. The life of the princess serves as an orienting point to American Indians’ strategies of recalcitrance.. The main theme points to the secondary ones such as the wise rule of Powhatan or the obstinate actions of Englishmen to gain the land and make its people tributaries. In general, the first two chapters narrate about the first contact between Englishmen and Indians from the point of view of 9-yearold Pocahontas. The next two chapters tell the readers about the British inability to sustain themselves in their actions. Here the mythical story about Smith’s rescue by Pocahontas in the name of love is unveiled. Moreover, Townsend gives an account of the attempts of the Englishmen to destroy Indians’ culture and territory representing colonizers as figures who desired to “be lords of the manor, and they wanted the Indians to be something akin to serfs” (Townsend 11). The following three chapters speak of Pocahontas’ marriages, her captivity, and premature death. They also contain the data about princess’ son Thomas and the two massacres committed by Indians under the control of the British. The last chapter describes Pocahontas as a powerful and independent woman who struggled to survive on the edge of two different cultures to help her people.

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In general, the book is worth reading. Townsend managed to prove her thesis; however, certain aspects in the publication are in conflict with each other. Pocahontas is full of relevant illustrations, and is based on a mix of primary and secondary sources. The writer uses her sources deliberately quoting wherever it is to the point. The author makes pertinent endnotes that not only refer to the author and the book that the citation is taken from, but also may give some explanation to the words cited. For example, arguing that higher level of progress in farming by Europeans had helped them to take away Indian lands more easily, she refers to Jared Diamond’s book Guns, Germs, and Steel. Despite the fact that her prose flows smoothly, it is also overlong in some passages. Her language may be difficult to understand as she uses some dialects as well. It is interesting to read this book as it tries to unveil the true story of Pocahontas and British colonization, satirizing many existing mythical accounts. Townsend fails to meet my expectations in a way that most of her writing accentuates on the feelings of hatred towards unfair Englishmen and guesses what people might think. An emotional context of the publication deprives it of truly objective historical meaning. However, this book is still interesting to read as a fiction book.

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