I know we all love Pocahontas, but let’s imagine authentic Princess Unca barbie dolls lining the shelves of your local Toys R Us. She would come with three exclusive outfits made for mixing and matching. The first would be her traditional royal Native American dress of precious jewels and gold, the second her wedding ceremony ensemble, and the third would be her assimilated colonialist outfit complete with a cotton bra and leather lace up ankle boots. For a limited time only, we’ll throw in the dagger she was stabbed with – full scale! All this could be yours for the small price of 29.95 plus state tax!
This over-romanticized tale of star-crossed lovers from opposite sides of the world could not reek more of predictability and cliche. At certain points the narrative manages to surpass a 20th-Century-Fox vibe and heads straight into daytime soap opera. For example, when Winkfield drinks poison to prove his love for Unca and she miraculously revives him with her deep knowledge of North American botany, it truly feels like a scene stolen from Days of Our Lives. Because of the story’s melodramatic plot, it’s no surprise that this book would have provided an entertaining read back in the 17th century. However, when this tale is examined through a feminist lens, it becomes clear that there is nothing remotely feminist about it. It doesn’t even pass the bechdel test!
The entirety of the first two chapters reads like a male colonialist’s wet dream. Imagine being taken prisoner by a Native American tribe only to attract the attention of not one but TWO rich and gorgeous princesses. Your life is not only spared, but now you’re also caught in the middle of a hot and steamy cross-racial love triangle. I think the best and most female empowering part of the entire courtship between Winkfield and Princess Unca is when she forgoes her entire belief system and religion to conform to Winkfield’s with about the same amount of resistance that her sister had when she decided to murder the both of them. Or how about when Winkfield “persuaded his wife to conform to European dress” (55) and moved them out to his plantation, taking her away from her family? If you had asked her she would have said she did it all for love. If you asked me, I’d say it’s nonsense.
Neither Unca nor Alluca are examples of feminist characters for one simple reason: every action they both take is motivated by the pursuit of a man. Do they not have princess-based duties they need to be fulfilling? All they do is run around and fight over the affections of a white man, and guess what? It costs them both their lives. But don’t worry, the grieving father with his headstrong daughter who is a spitting image of his wife will provide the right amount of dramatic tragedy to continue on with this tale. We’ll get our fairytale ending.
This is significant to the story because the familiarity of this type of plot and the stereotypical character tropes demonstrate how this was clearly a story meant for European or colonialist eyes. The colonial encounter is romanticized and women take a passive and male-focused role. All the story does is reiterate the societal bounds that women and minority groups have been trying to break.