Monday, February 14, 2011

Who is actually 'civilized'?

Our discussion in class today got me thinking. Crevecoeur, or the narrator of Letters From an American Farmer, Farmer James, wrote out a whole plan for escaping 'civilization', and becoming adopted by and assimilated to a Native American tribe, to live simply with them, the 'savage' ones, away from everything. But who really are the savages here? Farmer James in his letters also tells us the horrifying account of a slave being punished by being left to die in a cage in a tree, being picked at by all sorts of insects and birds of prey. He tells of how hunting, without also growing ones' own crops, makes the spirit mean and greedy. With all these not-so-civil-sounding things happening in the world, it led me to question who exactly is civilized? How do we define 'civilization'? Could it perhaps be the other way around? Were the natives the civilized ones, and the Americans the savages? That question led me to the beginning lyrics of the well known song in Disney's Pocahontas, Colors of the Wind:
"You think I'm an ignorant savage
And you've been so many places
I guess it must be so
But still I cannot see
If the savage one is me
How can there be so much that you don't know?"

How would Crevecoeur respond to that song? Thoughts?


  1. He'd tell us to read John Smith, no?

    This is an interesting question, if only because Disney plays into the whole business of exoticizing Pocahontas, right?

    These are important questions, Rachel H. What you're getting at, and what we touched on yesterday, is the question of how the Other--in Crev's case, the "savages"--is oftentimes represented as either a threat or as some kind of key to exotic enlightnment (or romance). And you're really asking what's at stake in all of that--particularly when, in the minds of Crev's readers, the entire American continent was this vast otherspace.

    To put it another way, why did The Beatles go to India?

  2. I found Crevecoeur (or Farmer James!) interesting because his comments on American civilization changed so much throughout his letters! They started complimentary and appreciative of the hard work and success the American people were achieving, but ended with him so disgusted by their ways he wanted to live with the Native Americans, instead. It sounded as if Crev changed his opinion of who the savages actually were, or at least viewed the subject differently (similar to Disney's message).

  3. This is a really interesting connection! I personally have problems with Disney, especially Pocahontas and its historical inaccuracies, but I also think you're getting at an important message that Crevecoeur is trying to communicate in his letters that also go along with this movie. To answer your questions, I think it is important to first determine the definition of "savagery,' which include: barbarity; an uncivilized state; wild, primitive, uncultivated. I don't think that we can generalize Americans as either "savages" or as "civilized," but that a lot of the mistreatment of Native Americans arises from "other-ing" and ignorance, which this song communicates.