To what extent is Captain John Smith a reliable narrator? Why does he write from a third-person point of view? What does he accomplish by this?

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Captain John Smith wrote several detailed accounts of his explorations of the North American coast and the native peoples he encountered there. The earliest of these are letters that he wrote in 1608. He later expanded these letters into a book in 1612, in which he added more detail about...

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Captain John Smith wrote several detailed accounts of his explorations of the North American coast and the native peoples he encountered there. The earliest of these are letters that he wrote in 1608. He later expanded these letters into a book in 1612, in which he added more detail about his observations and adventures. He also wrote two more books recollecting his voyages in 1624 and 1630.

The full accuracy of Captain Smith's writings will never be entirely known. Archaeological evidence and other reports confirm several descriptions of several Native American settlements that he provides. His geographical descriptions of the coastline also seem to be faithfully recorded. It is in the details of certain events that suspicion as to their authenticity has been aroused. The details of certain events, such as being saved by Pocahantus, change significantly with each new recording of the story. It is also clear that Captain Smith was prone to self-aggrandizement. This was a common practice of explorers of the New World. Self-promotion was necessary as many voyages, including Captain Smith's, were funded by private companies looking for economic opportunities across the Atlantic. Captain Smith likely exaggerated certain facts and details in order to reassure his financial backers in the Virginia Company of their investment.

We can not know for sure why Captain Smith wrote his accounts in the third-person. Others in his time wrote their accounts in the third person as well. Perhaps Captain Smith used this particular writing technique to make himself seem more reliable and authoritative. He frequently sings his own praises in his writings. It is possible that Captain Smith wrote in the third person in order to make himself seem more sympathetic to the reader.

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In many of the early accounts of life in the New World, the reliability of the narrator often comes into question.  Much of this uncertainty stems from the largely Eurocentric perspective of the accounts, particularly as it relates to the clash of cultures between European settlers and the native inhabitants.  As such, much of what is written during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries treats the subject matter in a rather judgmental way, praising the "civilization" of the European settlers and denigrating the "savagery" of the native inhabitants.

John Smith's account of life in early Virginia, written in the early part of the seventeenth century, does not reflect the above tendency to a great extent; however, Smith appears to have been aware of the possibility that his relationship to the events could affect how he discusses them.  Being "too close" to the subject matter can affect the narrator's ability to strike a balance in the narrative.  One way Smith seeks to avoid this is to remove himself as much as possible from the narrative, deciding on third-person narration rather than the more common first-person format.  The third-person perspective gives Smith's account a greater air of legitimacy - as if he is merely an observer to the events described.

The question remains:  What does Smith accomplish with this narrative technique?  In using third-person, Smith's account appears more balanced to the reader.  Not only does Smith seem to remove himself from the events as much as possible, but he also manages to make the account more relatable to other accounts of the region from the same time.  While the account is that of Smith's own experience, it is an account that connects with other accounts of the period; it is not too personal an account.

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