, Research Paper
A Comparison of Early American Texts
When the Europeans first came to the Americas in the late 15th – early 16th century, they brought with them a distinctive style of literature that was a complete contrast to the Native Americans? who inhabited the land. The Europeans? system of literature was based on writing, which was a technique unheard of by the Native Americans, whose system of literature was based on oral traditions since they did not use alphabetic writing. Despite this variance in styles, both European and Native American literature constructs a definite description of an author?s personality. I plan to present how the texts of Christopher Columbus, Bartolome de Las Casas, Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala, and Garcilaso de La Vega reveal a distinctive personality in each of these authors and the significance of this presentation.
Christopher Columbus presents himself as a compassionate, magnanimous and dutiful voyager in the texts contributed. Christopher Columbus? texts seem to exhibit the author as an adherent to his ?Highnesses?, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain. Throughout these texts Columbus repeatedly declares of his actions as restrictively for the favor of his king and queen. For example, in the passage ?The people of the new world greet Columbus,? Columbus states, ??when Your Highnesses so command, they [the seven slaves] can all be carried off to Castile?since with fifty men they would be all kept in subjection and forced to whatever may be wished.? Another example is in the passage ?Columbus describes the people of the New World,? in which Columbus proclaims, ?Our Lord willing, at the time of my departure I will bring back six of them [Native Americans] to Your Highnesses, that they may learn to talk.? These two examples depicts Columbus simply as a vassal to his authoritative figures, often even more so than to God.
Bartolome de Las Casas presents himself as a veracious narrator of the monstrosities being perpetrated in the New World. His ability to confess of his own failures in attempting to erect a humane settlement establishes a loyal and infallible reputation for Las Casas, with an indication of his guilty conscience for being a part of such massive ravaging. An example of this assertion is evident in an account describing the death of an Indian. Las Casas speaks of himself in the third person as a cleric who had, prior to the Indian being wounded in the stomach by a Spaniard, assured the native that there no longer would be any demise and atrocity, stating, ?No more, no more. Do not be afraid. There will be no more, there will be no more.” This level of dignity puts the reader?s trust in Las Casas? accounts, allowing us to feel his passion and see his documentary vividness. Las Casas also presents himself as a disciple of God, spreading the word of Christianity and acknowledging God?s part in the Spaniards? conquest of the New World. An example of this allegiance is best presented when Las Casas states, in the third person, ??the cleric Casas?would baptize the children he found in the village. He did this throughout the island?and there were many for whom God provided holy baptism because He had predestined them to glory.?
Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala displays himself as a privileged narrator of the events that took place during the European conquest, thus empowering him to record a truer account, since he was a Christianized Indian. Throughout Ayala?s text he makes perpetual references to his Incan heritage to produce a justification for his intention of revealing the atrocious deeds performed on the Native Americans. An example of these references is present in ?The First Part of this Chronicle: The Indians of Peru.? One statement in this passage asserts of his Incan heritage, stating, ?My history begins with the exemplary life which was led by my father Huaman Mallqui and my mother Curi Ocllo Coya, daughter of Tupec Inca Yupanqui, the Peruvian leader.? This reference to his Incan ancestry also demonstrates the pride he has in being Incan, thus verifying his reason for exhibiting the catastrophe being created as just. An example of this pride is best presented in Ayala?s statement about his father, claiming, ?My father served in an important capacity during all the wars, battles, and revolts against the Spanish Crown.?
Garcilaso de La Vega presents himself as an intellectual historian with an intention of furnishing a factual commentary on the actions that had taken place during the Spaniards? arrival to the New World, since the previous accounts had been ?rendered inappropriately.? The desire to create a guileless account of the Spaniards? conquest to the New World exemplifies La Vega?s attachment to, and the respect he has for, his Native American heritage. The attachment to his Native American heritage is also presented when La Vega gives admiration and respect to the religion, idolatry, way of life, origin, and customs the Indians of Peru possessed.
If I were to parallel any of these authors? style of writing with an author from an earlier text, I would compare Bartolome de Las Casas? History of The Indies (1564, Spain) with Francois Villon?s Hanged Men (c. 1450, France.) Both of these authors present a form of guilt in their previous actions and a desire to pay homage to God in hopes of exoneration. In Las Casas? text, this transformation is best exemplified in his ability to admit of his involvement in the Spanish conquest and evolve into a disciple for God, opposing and rebuking the Spaniards? actions. This transformation is equally presented in Villon?s text when Villon describes the hanging of six men for their misdeeds. Villon is the voice for these six men, who state, ?Don?t be insulted that we call you brothers, even if it was by Justice we were put to death, for you understand not every person has the same good sense?we are dead, may no one taunt us, but pray God that he absolve us all.? This statement shows Villon?s capability of being able to confess to his past misdeeds and his appeal for God to absolve him for his lack of ?good sense.?
Despite their variance in styles, both European and Native American literature constructs a definite description of an author?s personality. Through the use of documentation, writers of the early Americas were able to apply their own characteristics and identities to their accounts of the Spaniards? conquest to the New World. This presentation of self has ultimately led to our modern culture?s style of writing, which has remained unchanged in documentary literature for over 500 years.