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Pocahontas: Love Across Cultures

Pocahontas is a treasured Disney movie in my collection. I was raised to respect other people’s cultures and to keep an open mind, and the film emphasizes the importance of that lesson in various ways.

I could relate to Pocahontas’ adventurous spirit and desire to understand a world that was not her own. She was special in that she could look beyond her own upbringing; she was inquisitive and curious. She stayed true to her roots but wasn’t afraid to explore beyond them. She was my role model in that respect.

Pocahontas spying on John from above, hiding behind a tree

Pocahontas is still a classic because its messages never grow stale. They will always be important for humanity, and though the love story is part of the reason why I love it so much, it’s not the film’s entire draw.

Different Worlds

Pocahontas and John are two clearly different people, but they share key qualities and traits. They both care about their people and where they come from, but they both also keep open minds regarding other cultures—well, after Pocahontas has convinced John that he doesn’t know everything, anyway. They teach other different things; they want to learn more about the world and the people in it. They are fascinated with one another, which no doubt adds to their already palpable chemistry.

The idea of forbidden love isn’t a new concept, but Pocahontas puts its own unique spin on it, since the couple is also trying to unite their people in the process of their courtship. Forbidden love is undoubtedly part of the allure of the film, maybe even its initial selling point. Somehow, a love that is trying to be stopped by friends, family, and/or peers from either side of the relationship seems more appealing, as the adversity provides conflict and also brings the couple closer together. It doesn’t always work out that way, but for Pocahontas and John, every attempt to break them up only unites them.

Pocahontas and John Smith lean into each other for a kiss

John and Pocahontas both shed any fear of the unknown; instead, they embrace it. They accept one another completely and wholeheartedly, loving each other for who they are regardless of their differences. That’s what makes their relationship so special, and I believe that it is a sign of true love, ensuring the two were meant to be together from the start, despite opposition from their respective cultures. Plus, Pocahontas accomplishes what no one else has before: changing John’s perspective on Native Americans, the so-called “savages” referred to by white settlers.

The two respect one another’s beliefs as well. That’s also very important for any functioning relationship, not just a romantic one. They don’t have to understand everything about where that other person comes from, why they believe the things they do, or why they act a certain way—they just have to be willing to listen and care for that other person. It’s no wonder Pocahontas and John are the ideal candidates for stopping a war between their peoples; they are the perfect advocates for peace and understanding, and they want to spread those things to promote harmony. Unfortunately, as the film depicts, those things are not easily attained.

Spirituality

Prior to the arrival of the English, Pocahontas is at a point in her life where she is unsure of where she is headed. She doesn’t want to marry Kocoum, feeling their personalities would clash too much to make a marriage work. She is convinced her path is different than the one her father wishes her to take, and she follows her heart, refusing to give up her dreams and choosing what is best for her. The film addresses her personal struggle in that sense; it is a lesson about knowing who you are and trusting yourself to follow the path that you feel in your heart is meant for you.

In addition, I still find her dream involving the spinning arrow interesting, and how the film ties that in with John’s compass, assuring Pocahontas of her destiny. It’s a clear sign, and a good one; it reassures Pocahontas that she’s already on the path she’s destined to take. It’s a good life lesson: The things you need appear to you when you need them most. Things will make sense in time, and you just have to follow your heart along the way.

Pocahontas speaking with Grandmother Willow, a face carved into a tree

Pocahontas has a dear friend in Grandmother Willow, a wonderful guide who provides comfort and reassurance whenever Pocahontas seeks it. I’ve always considered it a message that the individual need not confront everything alone; it’s okay to seek guidance and advice from a trusted figure. That advice doesn’t have to be an individual’s driving point either—it can just be there to help indicate the right direction.

Life Lessons

Ratcliffe is a good example of how greed can change a person, and certainly not for the better. He’s concerned with his own wealth and status; he doesn’t care who he has to hurt to get what he wants. He is like poison, and he spreads that poison to the minds of the men, feeding them lies about who the “savages” are, despite not knowing a thing. The men believe him until they see for themselves just how wrong Ratcliffe is about Native Americans. Greed drives Ratcliffe, and he’s so enveloped in it that he can’t see a way out. He cannot see the bigger things in life and refuses to back down, resulting in the terrible tragedy in which John takes the bullet that Ratcliffe means for Pocahontas’ father.

Ratcliffe taking a musket from a fellow Englishman

Ratcliffe is a prime example of how not to act in life. He is a monster, a selfish and aggressive man who ultimately receives punishment instead of treasure. Can he say that his actions were equal to the consequences? Absolutely not. I never liked the man, but I understand his position in the film as the antagonist.

The other life lesson the film depicts is how quickly things can get out of hand—specifically when Kocoum heads for John in a blinding rage after having witnessed the latter kissing Pocahontas. Instead of confronting them or even speaking with Pocahontas alone later, he reacts in the heat of the moment. Everything goes downhill from that moment on, largely due to misunderstandings and preconceived judgments. It shows how important communication and action truly are, and how vital it is to show others respect, understanding, and goodwill.

About That Ending…

If I have any grievances about Pocahontas, it’s the fact that it isn’t clarified that John isn’t the one to kill Kocoum, as well as the film’s ending. Thomas kills Kocoum in trying to save John, but that isn’t stated at any point, and I felt like there’s a need to do so. Wouldn’t her people be more horrified if Pocahontas loved Kocoum’s killer? Wouldn’t it make it harder for them to accept her relationship with John? In the end, they accept John anyway, so perhaps that misunderstanding was cleared up offscreen.

The ending always gets to me as well. I hate that John is hurt, and I hate it even more when he has to return to England without Pocahontas. Granted, John needs further treatment to survive his wounds, but I wish dearly that Pocahontas would go with him. It’s so obvious that the two are meant for each other, and when they’re ultimately separated, it feels like an incomplete end to their blossoming love story.

John and Pocahontas, nose to nose, look at each other sorrowfully

From a writer’s point of view, I can understand the need for the succession of events from the moment John is injured. It ultimately brings peace between both Pocahontas’ and John’s people, but at a price. Plus, Ratcliffe receives his karma. John taking the hit meant for Chief Powhatan is a show of how much he cares for Pocahontas and her people, given he risks his life for them. Still, by that point, he has already shown major respect for her people in being willing to accept his fate and be put to death by them, an event thankfully prevented by Pocahontas. In any case, if he had succumbed to the wound inflicted by Ratcliffe, it wouldn’t have been in vain. Fortunately, he lives, but it means leaving his love behind, given she wants to stay to ensure that the peace between their sides holds.

In a way, I understand that. She feels responsible for maintaining the peace that she and John have hoped for and now realized. At the same time, I feel like maybe she’s afraid to leave her own home as John had left England; that’s a different kind of adventure altogether, one that Pocahontas isn’t ready for—at least until the sequel. The thing is, I want her and John to finally be free to be together, to be happy once and for all, and the film’s ending still stings because it fails to unite them.

Conclusion

Nevertheless, Pocahontas holds up well 25 years later, given its life lessons in accepting differences and its comments on peace, greed, and more. It teaches audiences a lot about humanity, lessons that will forever be important and crucial to helping different groups of people live with each other peacefully, as well as come to understand their own internal desires and struggles.

Pocahontas and John Smith kiss each other farewell

Pocahontas and John also provide a happy love story for audiences, showing them that love is possible no matter who you are or where you come from. There is someone out there for everyone, and it just takes time—or in Pocahontas’s case, a dream with a sign. You never know what tomorrow will bring, and it brings John and Pocahontas incredible adventure and a beautiful love story.

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Written by Kacie Lillejord

Kacie is a freelance writer versed in various forms. She loves pop culture, screenwriting, novels, and poetry. She has previously written for The Daily Wildcat, Harness Magazine, Cultured Vultures, and Screen Rant, with 25YL being her newest writing venture.

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