Naked and Alone in a Strange New World
Naked and Alone is a comparative analysis of early modern captivity narratives that chronicle the harrowing experiences of a few Iberians and one Hessian in the New World during the century of exploration and colonization. Included among them are the tales of Jeronimo de Aguilar and Gonzalo Guerrero, Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca , Juan Ortiz, Hans Stade, and Francisco Nunez de Pineda y Bascunan. After years of captivity that stripped the unfortunate men of their cultural identity, they eventually reunited with their countrymen to relate and record tales that rivaled the heroic epics. The authors thus provided most Europeans with a first glimpse into exotic New World societies considered strange and perhaps even diabolical by the colonizers. At the same time, most contemporaries used the narratives as justification for imperial prerogatives although the captives themselves came away with a deeper understanding of and appreciation for their Indian captors.Although considered by some early historians as reliable texts, the captivity narratives are rejected by this author as historically accurate depictions of the experiences-faulty memories, contemporary myth, and the authors' subjectivity greatly impeded the veracity. He instead argues that the texts are cultural artifacts that offer useful insight to the mentalities of the age. In order to construct a histoire des mentalities, the author incorporates anthropological perspectives of myth and employs textual/contextual analysis to unlock the deeper meanings often obscured by the literary imagery. What results is an interpretation that aids understanding of sixteenth-century peoples and societies, and of the post-colonial American cultures most directly influenced by them.
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