I knew it at eight years old and I know it today—Pocahontas rocks! As a kid I loved her because she rode in a canoe, climbed and talked to trees, had a pet raccoon, and followed her heart. Today I love her for all those reasons and then some. Not only is the 1995 Disney film artistically stunning, but its heroine actually shows viewers the importance of independence, intuition, and moral courage while the movie as a whole illustrates a sense of identity that extends beyond finding one’s “other half.”
Unfortunately, its profundity is undermined by its packaging. Pocahontas’s busty and leggy appearance does nothing to showcase the deeper themes of the film but rather draws attention to the importance of feminine physique. The lingering close up of her face when she meets John Smith further enforces the value of a woman’s exotic beauty in the eyes of a man as opposed to her character. Still, there’s much to celebrate about this flick so let’s take a look!
The movie begins in bustling London town with a team of brave men shipping out to discover a “new world.” Bravest among them is Captain John Smith whom everyone idolizes as the fiercest of Indian fighters. He swaggers onto the screen with his macho Mel Gibson voice and a hint of arrogance. His strength, leadership, and decisiveness come out during a massive storm as he yells out commands and even dives into the sea to rescue a man overboard. When back on deck he assures everyone he’ll take care of the savages, killing “maybe two or three.” Smith is courageous, sharp-witted, even unselfish, but he’s also rough, arrogant, and closed-minded.
Meanwhile, in the “new world,” Pocahontas goes where the wind takes her. She’s introduced alone, pondering a dream. Her father says it’s pointing her down a path of marriage to a serious Indian warrior. Skeptical, she hops in her canoe to get another opinion from Grandmother Willow who tells her to listen with her heart to the spirits around her. Pocahontas is intuitive, spiritual, and receptive. At the same time, she’s uncertain, indecisive, and not yet brave enough to choose her own path.
When John Smith and Pocahontas meet, a transformation begins. An upsweep of leaves symbolizes unity, connection, and a turning point. Immediately the rough and tough John Smith reveals gentleness while Pocahontas shows signs of bravery, deciding to communicate with (instead of run from) the pale stranger. However, it takes a little work (or one magical Disney song) to truly change John Smith’s narrow perspective of Pocahontas and her people. Nevertheless, his perspective changes radically. In fact, by the end of the film he defends them to the British voyagers and even takes a bullet for the Native American chief.
Similarly, Pocahontas changes, too. As she brings out understanding and humility in Smith, he brings out her strength and decisiveness. She discovers what it means to act upon intuition and spiritual guidance. In the end, she decides, without a shadow of a doubt, to protect John Smith when her people plan to execute him. Her moral courage, strength, and independence are fully realized and tangible. She stands against the path of hatred, standing instead for courage and understanding. Her independent spirit comes into full bloom. In the face of complete opposition (including her own father!) she risks standing alone in order to defend her highest sense of right—openness to and compassion for others no matter the differences in appearance or culture.
Wow! What an incredible lesson for us all!
But wait, there’s more!
Pocahontas faces another difficult decision, which she makes calmly and decidedly—in a way that only comes from a solid foundation of wisdom and complete trust in a deeper sense of self. She must choose whether to stay with her people or journey to London with John Smith.
Drum roll please…
Pocahontas stays with her people instead of following her love interest. While it makes for a bittersweet ending for some audiences, it marks a new, complex, and profound ending to a Disney movie. She has come to a point of self-completeness having simply known John Smith and is thus able to make a decision independent of a man and marriage.
Best selling author Mary Baker Eddy wrote, “Union of masculine and feminine qualities constitute completeness. The masculine mind reaches a higher tone through certain elements of the feminine, while the feminine mind gains courage and strength through masculine qualities” (Eddy 57). In this case, the use of the words masculine and feminine indicate qualities as opposed to physique or gender. A journey to self-actualization requires the embodiment and acknowledgement of masculine and feminine qualities within oneself. With a desire to teach men, women, young girls, and young boys what it means to truly be independent and confident we need to realize the fullness of our identity—which we do by learning from one another.
The relationship between Pocahontas and John Smith illustrates this point—that we discover a sense of completeness through understanding our limitless potential. Openness and connection to others cultivates our latent qualities and abilities until we blossom into all we can be. This Disney Princess shows us, unlike any other, how to learn from every person, place, or thing to find our own path—our own passions, love, and strength.