Orientalism in Disney’s Pocahontas
While the name suggests an allusion to only Eastern Asia, or the Orient, Orientalism is a branch of Cultural Studies, an area of literary criticism that has applications in various mediums. The school of critical theory, created by Edward Said, is applicable to novels, essays, social situations, films, and epics alike. One film, to which Orientalism is applicable, is Disney’s Pocahontas.
To understand how Orientalism is applicable to a film that takes place in the Western world, far away from the Orient, a foundation detailing the components of Orientalism must be constructed. Traditionally, Orientalism’s focus is the depiction of Eastern cultures, or places considered a part of the Orient, such as
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On the outskirts of the main storyline, the British settlers, led by Governor Ratcliffe, are searching for gold and ways to conquer and tame the new land, to make it useful to them. The settlers do not know if there is gold in the new world, yet they have heard this, so they believe it. Once they find there is no gold, they believe the American Indians to be hiding it. The underlying conflict in Pocahontas is centered upon the basic distinctions between the American Indians and the British settlers. The language, culture, and even skin color differ between the two. Each group views the other group as foreign, as “the other.” For the sake of the argument, America and the American Indians represent the Orient. Britain and the British settlers represent the Occident. The differences in language, culture, and skin color between the groups are frightening for each. Because neither group is familiar with the other and their customs, conflict arises. Even though, essentially, both groups are comprised of human beings, the distinctions between the Orient and the Occident are too substantial to ignore.
Both the Orient and the Occident “are man-made.” “The Orient is an idea that has a history and a tradition of thought, imagery and vocabulary that have given it reality and presence in and for the West” (1869). If the Orient did not have cultures, traditions, a history and other differences from the