It was an adventure from the point of view of the foreigners who came from England. They wanted to start a new life away from the chaos, confusion, and poverty of their motherland (Woodward, p.145). They succeeded in finding a new world but what was not yet clear is that if they can have a new life in a new settlement that they would have to build from scratch (O’Sullivan & Keuchel, p.7).
In this particular study this particular story is re-told in two different ways. These two versions will be compared side-by-side. The first one is an eyewitness account and primary source of the first wave of English settlers and the second one is a film directed by Terence Malick.
The plot structure of Smith’s book contrasted sharply with that of Malick’s movie. Smith wanted to show an overview of history as it pertains to the creation of an English settlement in Virginia.
The author, Captain John Smith was able to do this by providing detailed description of the reasons for setting sail towards an unknown world, risking their lives for something that they are not entirely sure about (Smith, p.40). The film however, did not waste time explaining the rationale of the voyage from England to Virginia because the plot structure focuses on the New World and its impact on the lives of the Englishmen.
With regards to the characters the movie cannot afford to spend so much time providing details regarding the other actors. Thus, the movie failed to develop more round characters and this is understandable because of the limitations of the medium used (The New World, p.1).
But in the case of Smith he had the freedom to discuss the members of the crew and what they are like and thus providing the readers enough background information to appreciate the actions of the characters in the historical account. The film however focused on John Smith and Pocahontas.
The book and the film share the same setting – the New World. The author was smitten by the new surroundings. He was like a boy that was given an expensive toy. He could not believe what he saw. Smith had a very realistic view of the New World while the movie version of his character seemed to be a poet allowed to roam free in an enchanted kingdom.
In other words the John Smith that wrote the book had a clear understanding of what has to be done in order to survive in the New World. On the other hand the John Smith in the film seemed to have an overly optimistic view of the natives.
In the movie John Smith fell in love not only with Pocahontas but also the land and its people. The book may have suggested that John Smith respected the natives but not to the extent that he wanted to be like them. In the movie John Smith expressed his desire to be like them. He did not say it out loud but he expressed it by describing the superiority of their ways in terms of the absence of jealousy and greed. He was amazed at the way the people share everything that they have.
The John Smith who wrote the book had a practical view of the land and the people. The author was well aware that the land and the people can swallow him up and his fellow explorers. He did not have the luxury to become culturally sensitive to the New World. His mind was occupied with only one thought and it was the concept of survival.
The book was written from the point of view of Captain John Smith and the English settlers. The movie alternates from the point of view of Pocahontas and John Smith. John Smith saw Virginia and the New World from the perspective of an adventurer. He saw the dangers and the excitement but he was unable to fully explore how the natives saw the strangers that landed on their shore.
The main difference between the movie and the book is on how the director was able to show how two groups of people collided in one location. The Englishmen saw it as some sort of a land of promise. The natives saw it as their home and the intruders are forcing their way into a territory that belonged to the natives for hundreds or even thousands of years.
The book uses symbolisms of power. The Englishmen were superior to the natives. The Englishmen points to their armor, guns, mirrors, compass and other evidence of technological prowess and use it to judge the power and value of the natives. In the book the English settlers acted as if they were entitled to everything that they thought they need to live a successful and happy life in the settlements that they had created.
The movie uses different forms of symbolisms depending on whose point of view was the focus of the scene. If the movie takes the point of view of Pocahontas then the symbolism used is the elements that can be found in nature. In the early part of the movie one can see Pocahontas mimicking the gestures of the wild animals.
This symbolizes freedom and being one with nature. When John Smith was sent as an envoy he was separated from his team and one of the most poignant moments was when he was alone in a swampy area and he was covered in full body armor.
However, he was defeated and captured by those who utilized crude technology. This scene symbolizes the fact that the natives had the advantage because they know how to behave in accordance to natural environment. Although Smith had superior arms he could not move freely in knee-deep water.
The theme of the book is the chain of events that led to the discovery and colonization of the New World. The theme of the movie is the clash of two cultures. Pocahontas symbolized the culture of the New World while John Smith epitomized the culture of the foreigners. The theme about the clash of culture did not end there because at the latter part of the movie a co-mingling of identities was achieved. The book had a simple unifying theme and it was just an overview of history from the point of view of the conquerors.
The book and the movie attempted to tell the story of how Englishmen tried to colonize the New World. The book had a simple approach and it was told from the point of view of a historian and settler. The author described the trials and triumphs of an adventurer forced to leave home to seek fame and fortune abroad. But the film was more complex even if it uses few details regarding the character and setting. It is more complex because it explores the same story from two points of view.
O’Sullivan, John & Edward Keuchel. American Economic History. New York: Markus Wiener Publishing, 1989.
Smith, John. The General Historie of Viriginia. MA: Applewood Books, 1624.
The New World. Dir. Terence Malick. Perf. Colin Farrell, Q’orianka Kilcher, Christopher Plummer. New Line Cinema, 2005. DVD.
Woodward, Grace. Pocahontas. OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1969.