In The General History of Virginia, New England, and the Summer Isles, what is John Smith's style of narration?

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John Smith’s Generall Historie of Virginia, New-England, and the Summer Isles details the early years of English settlement in the Americas, from 1584 through 1624, the year of the book’s publication. Captain Smith spent only three of those years in the colonies, first in Virginia and later in the region...

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John Smith’s Generall Historie of Virginia, New-England, and the Summer Isles details the early years of English settlement in the Americas, from 1584 through 1624, the year of the book’s publication. Captain Smith spent only three of those years in the colonies, first in Virginia and later in the region he named New England. Rather than the primary account students often take it to be in its entirety, Generall Historie amounts to a compendium of primary and secondary sources framed by bits of Smith’s own swashbuckling narrative. In the captain’s defense, he never suggests otherwise. In the preface, he writes:

For my selfe let emulation and enuie cease, I ever intended my actions should be upright: now my care hath beene that my Relations should give every man they concerne, their due. But had I not discovered and lived in the most of those parts, I could not possibly have collected the substantiall truth from such a number of variable Relations, that would have made a Volume at least of a thousand sheets.

The style of narration is interesting in that the book includes, in various places, all three grammatical persons: first, second, and third. Smith’s portions are often written in the third-person limited point of view, like a work of history rather than autobiographical literature. Later, many entries are in a first-person epistolary format and comprise letters and journal entries written by Smith or other settlers. At times, Smith’s own entries even venture into the second person:

They have also certaine Altar stones they call Parocorances, but these stand from their Temples, some by their houses, others in the woods and wildernesses, where they have had any extraordinary accident, or incounter. And as you travell, at those stones they will tell you the cause why they were there erected, which from age to age they instruct their children, as their best records of antiquities.

In its entirety, the Generall Historie can be dizzying to read and difficult to follow. It is, however, hard to imagine a more remarkably detailed account of the European colonization of the Americas. For this contribution, Smith is credited by some as the author of the first great work of American literature.

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Most journals are written as personal documents and are therefore written in first person.  What's interesting about John Smith's General History of Virginia, New England, and the Summer Isles is that it's written in third person.  I assume that's what your teacher is getting at by asking about his style of narration. 

If you didn't know it was actually written by one of the characters, you'd think the journal is simply an historical narrative.  One of the things my students always find striking about Smith's use of third person narrative is how good he's able to make himself sound in every situation--and he was a bit of a troublemaker, for sure.  The General History was not published until many years had passed, giving him time to make all kinds of "adjustments" to the writing and the stories.  His most famous story, his dramatic rescue from certain death by Pocahontas, was included in this work.  By the time he published his account of this story, both Pocahontas and her father had died and there was no one to either confirm or deny his version of the story. 

This third-person narrative style allows John Smith to embellish and praise as he sees fit as he tells his own story as if he were a stranger.  Good for his reputation, perhaps, but not so good as accurate history.

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