Norton Digital History Analysis Worksheet
Sample Media Worksheet. Jamestown Massacre (22 March 1622)
Which individual items within the image are drawn to your attention?
The item that the eye is drawn to the most in this image is the table in the left foreground. This provides a focus for the painting, which is important because the further back one looks, the more confusing the image becomes. The table is important because it shows that the men and women of Jamestown were sitting down to a normal meal when the attack began. This makes the painting all the more powerful because it illustrates the domesticity of the people of Jamestown in comparison to the "savage nature" of the Native Americans shown here.
In the center of the painting, one particularly gruesome scene is unfolding. An Indian raises his club to kill a mother and her prone child. In this and all the other conflicts, the colonists are largely unarmed and offering no organized resistance, which emphasizes the surprise nature of the attack and (misleadingly) the peaceable nature of the Jamestown settlers.
Another portion of the image that draws the eye is the relatively peaceful section in the background that shows the water. What is interesting here, however, is that instead of providing the viewer with a respite from the violence found in the rest of the painting, this section shows that four more boats of Indians are arriving at the shore. Thus ensuring that there is no way that the colonists can overcome their attackers.
There is also a fort in the background that suggests the attackers focused on a relatively unprotected outer settlement first. They might have more trouble, the artist suggests, attacking a well defended main settlement. In other words, all hope might not be lost after all.
List the characters, objects, and/or action.
- Native Americans (all men)
- Colonists (men, women, children)
- Fortification in the background
- Boats rowing to shore
- Native Americans ready to strike down colonists - although none except a child appears as though they have already been killed
- Male colonists resisting/defending
What is your overall impression of this image?
This is a very chaotic image and it tries to overwhelm the viewer. Only the figures in the foreground are defined closely, and even then the only faces that have real definition are those of the colonists. The body type of the Native Americans is very defined and emphasizes their strength, and the ability to dominate. The overall impression is one of violence, chaos, and savagery, with little or no hope available for these colonists. The colonists themselves are portrayed in their domestic outfits, performing domestic tasks, and perhaps with more women and children than was actually true for this early colony.
What is this image attempting to convey to the viewer?
This image compares the colonists to the Indians, and what highlighted here is the civilized nature of one group over the savagery of the other. Even though the colonists have what appear to be weapons that should be superior, they are being slaughtered by the simple knives and clubs of the Indians. It is as though there is no possibility that the colonists could ever protect themselves against these attackers because of their superior numbers, and the brute force behind the attack. What is also important to note here is that the Indians are making no distinction between the female and male colonists, which also supports the notion that the Indians are just savage. The artist would like the viewer to believe that even in warfare Europeans would hesitate to kill innocent women and children. Therefore the Indians do not even recognize the bounds of moral decency.
What does this image tell you about this period in American History?
This image reveals much about the fears and prejudices that plagued this time in colonial history. This is very much a piece of propaganda, constructed to highlight the perceived differences between the two cultures. The colonists are civilized, settled, almost defenseless, while the Native Americans are savage and hateful. Not only does this piece convey the fears of the time, but it helps to construct racial stereotypes.
Paintings like this, when viewed by Europeans back at home, helped quiet voices that favored fair and equal dealings with Native American kingdoms. It also helped eliminate the option of intermarriage and coexistence that might have flourished after the successful marriage of Pocahontas and James Rolfe that brought peace between Jamestown and its Native American neighbors.