In striking counterpoint to the conventional account, Pocahontas is a bold biography that tells the extraordinary story of the beloved Indian maiden from a Native American perspective. Dr. Paula Gunn Allen, the acknowledged founder of Native American literary studies, draws on sources often overlooked by Western historians and offers remarkable new insights into the adventurous life and sacred role of this foremost American heroine. Gunn Allen reveals why so many have revered Pocahontas as the female counterpart to the father of our nation, George Washington.
In what is presented as the first study of its kind by an American Indian scholar, Allen (The Sacred Hoop) offers a corrective to the romantic story of Pocahontas told initially by Capt. John Smith of the Virginia Company and most recently by Disney Studios. Euro-American historical accounts of Pocahontas's brief life, asserts Allen, typically depict her as a lovelorn and tragic character (she died in 1617 in the aptly named river port of Gravesend, England, at the age of 20 or 21). Allen's Pocahontas, by contrast, is a real visionary, a prodigiously gifted young woman fervently devoted to the spiritual traditions of her people: a loose-knit group of Algonquin tribes known as the Powhatan Alliance, or Tsenacommacah. When the English colonists who began establishing Jamestown in 1607 invaded the Tsenacommacah, Pocahontas immediately identified it as the fulfillment of a prophecy that foretold the end of their world and the beginning of a new one, argues Allen. It was "world change time," she writes, and Pocahontas (also called Matoaka, Amonute and finally Lady Rebecca Rolfe) was nothing if not mutable-as implied by the book's subtitle. Still, notwithstanding Pocahontas's significant role in American history, Allen's claims that Pocahontas "set in motion a chain of events that would," among other things, "liberate the starving and miserable peoples of Europe and beyond" can seem overstated. More persuasive are Allen's comments about the cultural similarities between the English and Algonquin and the idea that each group changed the other. When casting Pocahontas as "the embodiment of this dual cultural transformation," her role, and the book, are at their clearest, and are made manifest by Allen's often lyrical and powerful writing. (On sale Oct. 7) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.