Throughout most of this book, we’ve shown you exemplary student papers representing each school of literary criticism. In this chapter, we want to focus on how you can revise a paper to improve its organization and argument. In order to do this, we start with a paper written by Jens Paasen in his Introduction to Literature class. Jens focuses on a subject that might seem strange for a literature classroom: Walt Disney’s film, Pocahontas. In class, however, Jens and his classmates have concentrated on literary depictions of the natural world, and Jens believes this film could be interesting if looked at through an ecocritical lens. As Jens works through these ideas, he gets lots of new ideas about how ecocriticism could inform his argument. Watch the way Jens follows these distinct ideas in this first draft of his paper. At the end of the paper we will discuss how Jens made revisions with advice from his professor and peer colleagues.
- As we’ve suggested throughout this text, these process papers will make more sense if you are familiar with the work under discussion. In most sections we’ve provided links to public, electronic editions of the texts under discussion. The film discussed in Jens’s paper, however, is still under copyright. The interpretive moves in the paper should make sense whether you’ve seen the movie or not, but we highly recommend that you watch the movie before studying the sample paper. You can rent or buy a digital copy of Disney’s Pocahontas online.
- As you read Jens’s paper, pay particular attention to the claims that Jens makes. Perhaps list his main claims on a separate sheet of paper. How many distinct ideas do you count?
Professor Laurie MacDiarmid
Introduction to Literature
March 3, 20–
Disney’s Pocahontas and Ecocriticism: Dualism, Anthropocentrism and Animals
1 Introduction and Theoretical Background
In June 1995 Disney released its 33rd animated feature. For the first time ever Disney based a film on actual historical characters and events. The legend surrounding one of the earliest and great American heroines served as a reference: the legend of the Indian princess Matoaka, better known as Pocahontas.
Since its release, the film has been considered from various perspectives. Critics especially found fault with the depiction of Native Americans and the figure of Pocahontas from a feminist perspective. However, the idea and function of nature in the film, apart from some exceptions, appears to be unconsidered. The following term paper wants to take a critical look at the idea of nature in the film and consider its depiction and function from an ecocritical perspective.
The setting of Pocahontas is the English colony of Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607. Nature and wilderness are surely the single most dominating features of this setting. One of the very first things the character Captain John Smith notices when scouting the terrain is: “[…] a wilder, more challenging country I couldn’t design” (Pocahontas scene 11). Nature is omnipresent in the film and appears in various forms and functions.
This paper does not want to contribute to the debate about common points of criticism in Pocahontas. I think Russell Means, former head of the American Indian Movement and voice of chief Powhatan in the film, caused enough of a controversy when he called the film “The single finest work ever done on American Indians by Hollywood” (Gabriel and Goldberg). The right or wrong depiction of Native Americans is no more interesting for this work than the question of historical truth and authenticity. The parallelism between femininity and nature in the film will also not be considered as it is an issue of ecofeminism. Neither will the figure of Pocahontas be considered from a feminist perspective. The fact that the whole film, though portraying nature in a very spiritual and positive light, is based on a machinery of culture and capitalism, i.e. the Disney corporation, will not be considered, but should still be borne in mind. The paper will work exclusively intradiegetic in the world of the film and totally disregard outer factors. The following questions will be examined in the course of the paper. How are nature and culture presented as opposing concepts? How is nature instrumentalized to create anthropocentrism? How authentic are the animals presented in the film, and what functions do they have?
2 Disney’s Pocahontas
2.1 Some Introductory Words On Literal Determinism
One of the most important features of ecocriticism is that it denies what Peter Barry calls “the first item in the list of five recurrent ideas in critical theory”:
They turn away from the “social constructivism” and “linguistic determinism” of dominant literary theories (with their emphasis on the linguistic and social constructedness of the external world) and instead emphasize ecocentric values of meticulous observation, collective ethical responsibility, and the claims of the world beyond ourselves. (34)
This feature is, however, at least in some way contradictory. Literature and film, as every form of art, are culturally constructed depictions of reality. It is of course true that nature, in the sense the term is used by ecocritics, exists as an entity of its own and beyond ourselves. Nevertheless it cannot find entrance into cultural products in that sense. Even if an author or director would manage to create a perfect depiction of nature it would still be embedded into the cultural construct of his work. And even if that not be so, still, every human being is a captive of his or her own perception. Nature in film is thus twice filtered through the perception of the producer and that of the audience. Pocahontas is a good example for this. Against the background of the fact that it is an animated film and is based on the cultural machinery of the Disney Corporation we realize that the film begins and ends with a copper engraving showing the first and last shot of the film. This refers to the fact that the story of Pocahontas is deeply embedded in American history, culture and self-perception and we realize that nature cannot exist in an authentic way in this film. In the course of the following observations we should always keep in mind that the nature presented in the film is an artificial one. It is always there for a specific purpose and never for its own sake.
2.2 Nature, Culture and Anthropocentrism
Dualism is an “explanation of the world in terms of two opposed terms” (Garrard 183). Ecocriticism tends to divide the world into the terms of nature and culture and to study the relationship between them. In doing so, it regards nature as an entity of its own and in its own right, which eludes cultural beliefs or practice, as Barry points out:
“For the ecocritic, nature really exists, out there beyond ourselves, not needing to be ironised as a concept by enclosure within knowing inverted commas, but actually presents an entity which affects us, and which we can affect, perhaps fatally, if we mistreat it” (252).
One can, of course, argue that the word “nature” (from Latin natura for birth, origin) is a cultural manifestation. It is a term, established by humans, to delimit their world from anything that exists outside this world. On the other hand, one can also argue that humankind as a part of creation is an integral part of nature and that all its cultural expressions are thus, too. The first view, as the ecocritical attempt to regard nature as an entity of its own, tends to see nature as the “other” and excludes humankind from nature in creating a second entity named culture. The second view, on the other hand, rather integrates the concept of culture into the larger concept of nature. As I pointed out earlier, nature cannot find entrance into a cultural construct like a film without being culturally filtered. Every representation of nature in a film serves a certain purpose, even if it is just to entertain the viewer with an epic sight of wilderness. This section of my analysis will regard nature and culture as two separate entities and examine their depiction, their relations and their differences in Disney’s Pocahontas. Furthermore, it will try to investigate and describe how nature in the film is used to move humans into the center of attention and to create anthropocentrism.
In the initial song we find the following lines:
For the New World is like heaven
And we’ll all be rich and free
Or so we have been told
By The Virginia Company. (Pocahontas scene 1)
These lines clearly show that the settlers’ expectations and perception of the New World are totally shaped by a cultural force (The Virginia Company) before they even arrive. Virginia is depicted as an untouched paradise where wealth, freedom and glory are awaiting everyone. The power of culture behind the settlers’ perception is indicated by the line “so we have been told.” Smith is the only one fully breaking through this predetermined view and seeing the New World with other eyes than those of the Virginia Company.
The film continues with a further depiction of culture. Directly after the initial song the Susan Constant is shown in a violent storm. An ecocritical approach moving away from anthropocentrism would regard it just as such, a force of nature regularly appearing in the open sea. But as we are located in the dramatic course of a film we have to analyze the storm in terms of its meaning and anthropocentric potential. Using the ecocritical distinction between nature and culture, the storm may be read as an uproar of the New World’s nature against the cultural forces arriving in form of the settlers. We find proof for this assumption when the power of culture is demonstrated in the same scene. After Smith rescues Thomas’s life, Governor Ratcliffe comes on deck to ask whether there is any trouble. Shortly before he arrives the former storm promptly turns into a mild shower. In this scene Ratcliffe appears as the personification of culture as opposed to nature. His very presence seems to coerce the forces of nature to retreat, thus demonstrating the dominance of culture over nature. Following this course the storm appears as strongly putting humans into the center of attention. This is, of course, not a filmic statement about the dominance of culture over nature. It rather underlines Ratcliffe’s position in this debate and establishes him as the main force of culture in the course of the film.
Scene 3 gives the impression of the complete reverse of a world where nature is subordinated to humans. As Roxana Preda points out:
The Native Americans, on the other hand, are pictured as a communitas, shown to live in balance with nature, living off it without destroying it. The rhythm of their life is attuned to the natural one of the seasons, the cyclical return giving them the stability and security they need. All of nature repeats itself in this eternal rhythm, containing the lives of the tribe in a changeless pattern. In this view, a river is not the symbol of transformation and movement but is “steady like the beating drum.” This steady beat is the ruling metaphor of their existence. Their aim is to “walk in balance,” keep the traditions, take what nature is willing to give. … The Powhatans live in an ecological paradise in which there is no separation between the human and the natural world. This is a clean environment. (325)
The cleanliness and totally harmonic style of the place create the illusion of a world where there is virtually no difference between human and nature. While the settlers are established as the side of culture which exploits nature and is only interested in profit, the Indians are depicted as the side of nature where no such behavior exists. Whether the Powhatans practiced an exploitation of nature or not is an issue of the authentic depiction of Native Americans in film, which I am not able to investigate in this study. The impression that the Indians are totally on a par with nature is, however, only artificially maintained. As the following observations will show, nature, in the case of the Indians, especially Pocahontas, is as much used to put them into the center of attention as in the case of the settlers.
In scene 5 nature seems so be in the focus of attention, but only at first glance. Powhatan wants Pocahontas to accept Kocoum’s hand in marriage and illustrates the situation through nature:
You are the daughter of the chief. It is time to take your place among your people. Even the wild mountain stream must someday join the big river.
As the river cuts his path
Though the river’s proud and strong,
He will choose the smoothest course—
That’s why rivers live so long.
As the steady beating drum. (Pocahontas scene 5)
The analogy between Pocahontas and her people and the big river and the wild mountain stream is obvious. Powhatan’s words correspond to the lifestyle of his people. He compares the path of the daughter of a chief to marry and take her place among her people to a natural process. Social structures are naturalized and disguised as natural and inescapable. The mechanism behind this instrumentalizes nature to put a human in her place. The communitas, in the sense that Preda uses the term, turns out to deprive individuals of their individuality via nature. Pocahontas seems to escape this mechanism in scene 6. But instead of escaping it, she only resumes it. The river becomes a metaphor for the life she is living and the options she is facing. The end of her song illustrates this metaphor in a vivid way:
Should I choose the smoothest course
Steady as the beating drum?
Should I marry Kocoum?
Is all my dreaming at an end?
Or do you still wait for me, dream giver,
Just around the riverbend? (Pocahontas scene 6)
In Scene 7 the juxtaposition of nature and culture reaches a first climax. Pocahontas, not able to interpret her dream and to find her path, asks Grandmother Willow for advice.
[Pocahontas] But, Grandmother Willow, what is my path? How am I ever going to find it?
[Grandmother Willow] Your mother asked me the very same question.
[P] She did? What did you tell her?
[GW] I told her to listen. All around you are spirits, child. They live in the earth, the water, the sky. If you listen, they will guide you. (Pocahontas scene 7)
Grandmother Willow brings Pocahontas’s attention to the spirits living invisibly in the visible nature. The powers of nature, concreted in the concept of these spirits, have the power to guide if one listens. Grandmother Willow invokes this power with her song. “Que que na-tor-ra” is Algonquin and means “you will understand.” It is remarkable, though a coincidence, that the word na-to-ra, meaning “to understand,” resembles the word natura, or nature, thus indicating that nature and to understand mean the very same thing. However, for Pocahontas this is true. As she begins to listen to nature she understands. As Grandmother Willow begins to sing, disembodied voices can be heard and a mystical breeze moves her branches. The same voices repeat the last line of her song. It is likely to regard them as the voices of the spiritual world making themselves audible for Pocahontas to allow her to connect with it.
The connection succeeds. When Pocahontas listens to the wind it tells her that “strange clouds” are coming. As she climbs on a tree and glances over the landscape she notices the sails of the Susan Constant seeming to glide slowly over the treetops. In her answer to Grandmother Willow’s question what she is seeing she agrees with the wind: “Clouds. Strange clouds.” Ecocritics see nature as an entity of its own and in its own right existing beyond human terms of reality. What the wind is telling Pocahontas and what she sees prove this claim in a vivid way. The nature of the New World, impersonated in the wind, is totally unaware of white European culture. Literally “seeing” the sails of the Susan Constant for the first time it does the only logical thing in settling them with its own picture area and finding a matching concept. The sails are clouds, strange clouds, though. The very same mechanism, though used by a human, is at work a few minutes earlier when Pocahontas tells Grandmother Willow about her dream. She translates the compass she is dreaming about into a spinning arrow matching her own reality.
In scene 12 we find a similar case as in scene 2. Smith, who is scouting the terrain, perceives the presence of a stranger and hides behind a waterfall, ready to shoot. As he notices Pocahontas’s shape through the water he jumps out and points his gun at her. The situation is then strongly dramatized. Pocahontas’s body appears from out of the mist. The wind softly plays in her hair. She looks at Smith with a mixture of innocence and vulnerability. He looks deep into her eyes and wades through the water to reach her—and then she runs off. Two details are easily overlooked in this scene. First, the mist virtually appears within a second, and second, the sound of the waterfall suddenly stops. These seemingly circumstantial details appear in a very interesting light from an ecocritical perspective. The mist only serves to provide the moment with more pathos. The waterfall appears analogously to the storm in scene 2. Natural phenomena are simply subordinated in human presence or seem to appear and disappear in order to accentuate a situation where humans are in the center of attention. The mist and the waterfall are not independent natural phenomena in this scene. They are mere effects, switched on or off in the right moment to contribute to anthropocentrism.
We have investigated the dualism between nature and culture so far. Some ecocritics seek to achieve a status for nature in which it incorporates culture. In Disney’s Pocahontas, however, it shows that nature is subordinated to culture. Powerful forces of nature seem to retreat in humans’ presence. Natural phenomena are switched on or off at the right time as if they were special effects. Nature represents human struggles and situations. It also came to light that Powhatan disguises the way of life of his people as a natural process. But it was also shown that nature can make itself audible and form itself a platform. We found out that nature has its own picture area to which cultural phenomena may be applied.
2.3 The Leaves as Recurring Element
During the whole film a gust of wind carrying a handful of multicolored leaves accompanies nearly every movement the heroine is making. The leaves appear more often in the film than any other element of nature, and thus need special attention. They are closely connected with the role of wind in the film. Their first appearance, at the transition of scenes 2 and 3, indicates this. Kekata explains Pocahontas’s absence to Powhatan with the words: “She has her mother’s spirit. She goes wherever the wind takes her.” We then see a stream of leaves appearing and guiding us to Pocahontas, who stand on a cliff. In scene 7 Grandmother Willow tells Pocahontas to listen to the wind. As Pocahontas begins to open up her mind for the voices of the spiritual world the leaves appear. In scene 17 Powhatan claims to feel her mother’s presence in the wind:
[C] When I see you wear that necklace, you look just like your mother.
[Pocahontas] I miss her.
[CP] But she is still with us. Whenever the wind moves through the trees, I feel her presence. Our people look to her for wisdom and strength. Someday, they will look to you as well.
[P] I would be honoured by that.
The wind is established as the main force of nature in the film. It contrasts with Ratcliffe, who has previously been established as the main force of culture in the film. The leaves are a visualization of the wind. That way, it is easier for the viewer to recognize the wind’s role and functions in the film.
The leaves serve three main functions. First, they are the link between humans and nature. As Preda points out: “In the scene of the rescue it is only after feeling the wind that Powhatan consents to let Smith live” (334). The same thing happens to Smith, who is not a full part of Pocahontas’s reality in scene 15 before he has been caressed by the wind on a cliff. Pocahontas appears in a similar situation in scene 4. The wind seems to have the power to open one’s eyes to the beauty of the natural world, as in Smith’s case, and to make one feel its serenity and clarity, as in Powhatan’s case. Second, the leaves have a general connecting function in terms of love and language. In scene 12 Pocahontas and Smith’s hands reaching for each other are surrounded by a knot of leaves. It seems as if the wind expresses the validity of the connection. It also seems to initiate the sudden and inexplicable codeswitching of Pocahontas and all the other characters. In the next shot we see Pocahontas and Smith standing face to face surrounded by a helix of leaves. As the leaves appear from Pocahontas’s side and only in her presence and connect Smith to her a view seeing culture as an integral part of nature is supported. The last scene of the film gives a very strong impression of this connecting power. As Pocahontas is standing on a cliff looking at the Susan Constant in the distance, a powerful stream of leaves appears from behind her; it unerringly bears down on the ship and reaches Smith. It creates a last and powerful link between the settlers and the Indians, between Smith and Pocahontas, between nature and culture and between two worlds. It points to a final synthesis in the dualism between nature and culture. Third, the leaves accompany the movements of the heroine and underline her spirituality and permanent connection with the natural world. They lead us to her in scene 4. They appear and follow her in scene 15. They symbolize the transport of her feelings to Smith in the last scene. But the most important point is that they indicate the connection with nature beginning in scene 8 and the renaissance of this connection in scene 24 when Pocahontas eventually recognizes the meaning of the compass and her path.
The wind and the leaves it carries are the most frequent and striking appearance of nature in the film. They are conspicuous and their function is always clear to the viewer. Moreover, they fulfill most of the functions of nature in the film. However, they always serve to illustrate human issues. Whether they guide our gaze, build up a connection with nature, or underline a relationship, the link with humans is always given. The leaves are the force of nature with the strongest anthropocentric potential in the film.
The following section will investigate the trope of animals as introduced by Garrard in his book on ecocriticism (136–59). Some of the ideas Garrard discusses in his chapter on animals, especially the idea of anthropomorphism, shall be applied to the representation of animals in Pocahontas. The most noticeable representatives of animals in the film are Meeko the raccoon and Flit the hummingbird, who accompany Pocahontas. The principle of anthropomorphism can be demonstrated in a vivid way using these two characters. Anthropomorphism means “that we mistakenly ascribe human attributes … to the animals involved” (Garrard 137). With regard to Meeko and Flit this process already began in their creation. Nik Ranieri, the supervising animator for Meeko, drew his inspiration in creating the raccoon from himself. He used his acting talent to make Meeko come to life. This requires, of course, that Meeko’s character and movements are basically human. Dave Pruiksma, the supervising animator for Flit, studied hummingbirds to come up with all the right moves and create Flit’s character. This seems a good starting point to examine how anthropomorphism shows in these animals. To begin with, Meeko and Flit seem to relate to each other through a kind of friendship in which they tease each other constantly. Meeko is more of the funny and clumsy type, open to everyone and every new situation and always in search of food. Flit is shown as wary, careful, and as Pocahontas points out, “very stubborn.” In many situations the two of them behave like their human models and show human attributes as certain feelings, character traits, and behavior. Moreover, they are in possession of fully developed facial expressions and can show joy, uncertainty, and even sullenness.
The anthropomorphic representations of Meeko and Flit in the film are countless. Let us have a look at some of them. In scene 5 Flit shows obvious satisfaction with Kocoum’s wedding proposal by nodding. Meeko, on the other hand, links an obvious sound with a gesture as if he has to vomit. Hereafter he imitates Kocoum’s appearance. Flit, obviously dissatisfied with Meeko’s rejection, stabs the raccoon, posing as Kocoum, in his stomach (scene 5). In scene 18 Meeko braids Pocahontas’s hair. In scene 24 Meeko seems to understand Pocahontas’s problem and offers her the compass. In addition to these examples, there are many other instances in the film where Meeko and Flit show human behavior and facial expressions. Meeko and Flit are not only able to understand human language, but also empathize with Pocahontas and her situation, demonstrate agreement or rejection, and find solutions for human problems. At times it seems more likely to regard them as humans in animal shape than as authentic animals.
Percy, governor Ratcliffe’s dog, is another example of anthropomorphism. He seems to be a miniature version of Ratcliffe, equipped with a preference for luxury and British manners. This may be best demonstrated by a test animation in which Percy talked to Redfeather, a deleted character.
[Redfeather] Wow. Ha! I mean, that was close. Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha.
[Percy] I take it you’re some sort of… bird.
[R] That’s the understatement of the year.
[P] Egad! It speaks…
[R] Please don’t let me stand in your way. Last thing I wanna do…
[P] Yes, well, I’d love to continue this scintillating conversation, but really, I have to run. Goodbye.
[R] Ha, ha, ha, ha. (Gabriel and Goldberg)
Percy’s parlance clearly shows stereotypical British idiosyncrasies. The lightly nasal intonation of his original speaker underlines this. His face always carries a slight expression of aristocratic arrogance and disapproval. Wiggins, Ratcliffe’s manservant, rather seems to serve Percy than Ratcliffe. In scene 1 he carries Percy to the ship on a cushion while the dog is patronizingly waving at the crowd. In scene 10 Percy is sitting in a miniature bathtub wearing a bathing cap and eating cherries, and in scene 16 he is eating dog biscuits that are hung on a little carousel. Percy seems to be the caricature of an animal that has been shaped by culture so much that it has lost its wild status. Grandmother Willow hints at this when she says “That’s the strangest creature I’ve ever seen” (scene 21). Percy also is the only animal that is scared by Grandmother Willow’s appearance. Another strongly anthropomorphic feature of Percy is that his character makes a personal development over the course of the film. The initially arrogant dog that constantly conflicts with Meeko eventually befriends the raccoon and the hummingbird. In scene 21 Meeko shows his sympathy for the frightened dog by placing his paw on Percy’s shoulder. At this point Percy quasi becomes a part of the “gang.”
As animals in a film about humans, Meeko and Flit, as well as Percy, are unusually present and are virtually equipped with their own plot line. Unfortunately, this strong presence is at the expense of their authenticity. As Garrard points out, “the pet is just a mirror, reflecting back our gaze with no autonomy” (139). Meeko, Flit, and Percy are perfect examples of what Baker calls “disnification” and what is based on neoteny and a cutesy relation to nature (Garrard 141). Their function is to serve as a funny counterpart to the relatively serious main plot line. Their strong human attributes ridicule them. The boundary between the human and other creatures blurs.
Meeko, Flit, and Percy are the most obvious examples of anthropomorphism in the film, but there are also other animals showing similar behavior. The animals living around Grandmother Willow, for instance, start to twitter, squeak, and croak excitedly when Pocahontas talks about her dream. It seems as if they are talking before Grandmother Willow calls them to order. The anxious look of the frog in scene 7 and the ironic look the two owls exchange in scene 12 are further examples. Again, these cases of anthropomorphism serve as a funny counterpart to the main plot line.
But animals are not only humanized; they also fulfill other functions. They appear, for example, as a parallel to human counterparts or relations. In scene 6 a pair of otters symbolizes the relationship that Pocahontas may enter into. As she sings, “for a handsome, sturdy husband who builds handsome, sturdy walls,” a beaver building his lodge is shown. In scene 15 Pocahontas and John Smith are accompanied by a doe and a stag while running through the forest. In the same scene an artful cutting technique embeds Pocahontas and John Smith into nature and nature back into them. Lying on the floor they turn into the eye of an eagle. In the next shot the bird and its hen are shown sitting next to each other and looking leftwards. This shot then turns back into Pocahontas and Smith in the very same pose. Moreover, animals appear wherever Pocahontas appears and escort her. This is supposed to show her closeness and connection to nature. Take the otters, birds, and fish in scene 6 as an example. With regard to anthropomorphism, the opposite can also be found. The terms the Indians and settlers have for each other are clear cases of theriomorphism. Garrard refers to theriomorphism as “the reverse of anthropomorphism [which] is often used in contexts of national or racial stereotyping” (141). Kekata, the shaman of the village, calls the settlers “strange beasts” and likens them to “ravenous wolves” (scene 10). Ratcliffe, on the other hand, calls the Indians “vermin” (scene 23). A last noticeable point is the close association of animals with the spiritual world in the film. This association seems to be the complete reverse of the anthropomorphic tendency I described above. It depicts the spiritual world in the form of animals. If we remember that Grandmother Willow built a close relation between nature and spirits in scene 7, this relation is thus also build between nature and animals. We find two examples for this in the film: First, the herd of deer appearing in the wind in scene 15 and second, the great eagle flying over Pocahontas in scene 25 when she sings, “eagle help my feet to fly.” This mechanism moves the animals, which are pulled into the direction of culture by anthropomorphism close to nature and deeply embeds them into nature.
We have seen that animals are put to several functions in Pocahontas. We find many examples of strong anthropomorphism and also examples for theriomorphism. Animals parallel humans and their relations or visualize the spiritual world. However, they are never there for their own sake. They always fulfill a certain function, which mostly contradicts biological reality. A friendship between a raccoon, a hummingbird, and a pug seems as unlikely as animals showing complex facial expressions or fully understanding human language.
The previous analysis has shown that nature plays an important part in Disney’s Pocahontas. It can, however, not find entrance into the movie in an authentic form as it is a cultural construct and functions as a filter. Nature in the film serves certain functions. It moves humans into the center of attention and is used to symbolize their inner conflicts, their relations, and their situations. Some forms of nature—for example, the leaves—are more dominant than others and fulfill more than one function. Nature in general appears as a set of effects that is switched on or off at the right time to make its contribution to the atmosphere and the plot of the film. The same is true of animals, which are an integral part of nature. In the film animals are strongly anthropomorphized and serve as a funny counterpart to the main plot. They reflect human relations or are visualizations of the spiritual world.
The dualism between nature and culture, anthropocentrism, and the trope of “animal” are far from being all representations of nature in the film. Moreover, this work is far from an exhausting analysis in terms of these points. We only gained a brief insight into them. The film has to offer much more material for further analyses. Future works may also further investigate the dualism of nature and culture as is shows in the dualism between the Indians and the settlers. Roxana Preda broke ground with her distinction between societas and communitas (325) The question in how far a synthesis between nature and culture is reached is a further starting point for interesting investigations. Lastly, a close analysis of the cultural mechanisms behind the film needs to be achieved.
This analysis shows that nature cannot be there for its own sake in Disney’s Pocahontas. It has to serve certain functions and is embedded into cultural practice. The status that ecocritics seek for nature thus cannot be achieved. To use nature for our cultural issues may, however, not be that bad at all. I pointed out that nature and culture have their own picture areas and that a concept that exists in one area can be applied to the other area if a matching concept is found. Sails can be turned into strange clouds and become a part of nature. Vice versa, natural phenomena can be applied to the picture area of culture as in the film and nature becomes a part of culture. Perhaps this is exactly what we need to do to gain a deeper insight into nature and achieve a better understanding of it. “We need to sing with all the voices of the mountains. We need to paint with all the colors of the wind” (Pocahontas scene 15).
Barry, Peter: “Ecocriticism.” Beginning Theory. An Introduction to Literary and Cultural Theory. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2002. 248–71. Print.
Gabriel, Mike, and Eric Goldberg, dir. The Making of Pocahontas. Pocahontas. Disc 2. Disney, 1995. DVD.
Garrard, Greg. Ecocriticism. London: Routledge, 2004. Print.
Pocahontas. Dir. Mike Gabriel and Eric Goldberg. Disney, 1995. Film.
Preda, Roxana. “The Angel in the Ecosystem Revisited: Disney’s Pocahontas and Postmodern Ethics.” From Virgin Land to Disney World. Nature and Discontents in the USA of Yesterday and Today. Ed. Bernd Herzogenrath. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2001. 317–40. Print.
As you probably noticed while reading Jens’s paper, he packs lots of engaging ideas into his discussion of Pocahontas. However, you may have felt like each bold heading introduced a brand-new paper, each with an argument that, while related to the other arguments presented here, could nonetheless be developed into a compelling paper in its own right. Jens writes about nature and culture, he writes about representations of animals, he writes about images of leaves—and each of these seems like a brand-new idea.
After Jens submitted this draft to his instructor, she pointed out that by trying to pack every single one of his ideas into a single paper, Jens was actually making it harder for his readers to fully understand any of those ideas. The paper seems oversaturated and dense. She recommended that Jens pick one or two questions and revise his paper to fully answer them. This might mean, of course, that Jens cannot say everything he would like to say about Pocahontas in this paper, but his readers will benefit (and writing is, ultimately, about readers). In a peer-review workshop, Jens’s classmates help him sort through the many threads of his argument and find an engaging focus. Indeed, they point out that a relatively minor theme of Jens’s first draft—consumerism—is perhaps the most surprising and rewarding aspect of his argument.
When literature teachers ask you to revise your writing, they usually don’t want you to simply correct typographical errors, spelling, and the like. Simple corrections are better called proofreading than revision. Instead, professors want you to reconsider your argument—to evaluate how your claims and evidence fit together, to move elements around so your reader can more easily follow your ideas, to add transitional phrases and passages, to delete unnecessary information, and to add new research that clarifies or strengthens your claims.