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Historical Analysis of “Black Robe”

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    Historical Analysis of “Black Robe”

    The movie “Black Robe” was very realistic in portraying themes that paralleled with the lives of the aboriginal people living in North America at that time. Some of the themes that were similar in both portrayals of aboriginal life the primary document “The French Presence in Huronia: the structure of Franco-Huron relations in the first half of the 17th century” by Bruce G. Trigger and another primary document called “The Meeting of Two Worlds – Who Benefited from Indian-French Contact?” by Paul Bennett and Jaenen Cornelius were sickness, violence and the culture differences between the Huron and the Jesuits. The movie “Black Robe was very good at describing the aboriginal life through related themes that paralleled in Canadian history. The movie “Black Robe” was about the struggles that a Jesuit priest faces as he goes on his mission to convert the people of Huronia into Christianity can save their souls as decreed by the French king. Firstly, the sickness portrayed in the movie “Black Robe” was identical to the real life ailments the people of Huronia faced when the Jesuits came and brought their diseases to Eastern Canada. The viruses that the Jesuits spread in Huronia to the converts where viruses that the Jesuits where already immune to. In the primary document “The Meeting of Two Worlds – Who Benefited from Indian-French Contact?” by Paul Bennett and Jaenen Cornelius the consequences of the sickness spread by the Jesuits was described as “Epidemics caused much fear and despair, as well as severe depopulation, among the Indians” (Bennett, Cornelius 14). In the second primary source by Bruce G. Trigger called “The French Presence in Huronia: the structure of Franco-Huron relations in the first half of the 17th century” the epidemic is described as “The first serious trial for the Jesuits, and for the Franco-Huron alliance, occurred between the years 1635 and 1640. An unspecified disease, either measles or smallpox, was present in Quebec the year the Jesuits returned to Huronia and it followed the Huron fleet upriver.”

    The document later goes on to describe it as having “swept away more than half the Huron population in the next six years” (Trigger 107). In the film the sickness in its entirety was portrayed in the end of the film where the Jesuit is met with a group of Huron’s all of whom have contracted the disease and are asking for baptism as a final recourse to heal themselves. The film and both the articles all converge at the point that the sickness brought by the Jesuits were killing the Huron the Jesuits came into contact with. Secondly, the violence portrayed in the film “Black Robe” mirrored the violence portrayed in the two articles between the Huron and the Iroquois. The escalation of the conflict between the Huron and the Iroquois was founded in the French preference for trade with the Huron and the Huron refusal to trade with the Mohawk, a tribe of the Iroquois five nations. The Mohawk where described as “trying to force the Huron to trade with them and … when their efforts in this direction where unsuccessful, did they decide to destroy the Huron” (Trigger 110). In the movie the hate between the Huron and the Iroquois is most palpable in the scene where the Jesuit, Daniel, Chomina and his daughter and a small boy are captured and are being tortured and the Iroquois tribe leader says “Today was but the first caress, you will die slowly, we will peel all the skin from you and you will still be alive” (Black Robe 1991). Another scene in the movie where it is evident the Huron and the Iroquois dislike each other is the scene where the three Huron men are discussing the fate of the black robe and their fate as a tribe they say “and soon our enemies [the Iroquois] will know of our weakness and will wipe us from this earth” (Black Robe 1991). This again shows that the Iroquois will show no mercy to the Huron’s because of the bad blood between the two tribes. Lastly, the cultural difference between the Huron and the Jesuits is great and is truly reflected in the film and echoed in the two primary documents. The Jesuits do not believe in the Huron’s belief of dreams as depicted by Paul Bennett, and Jaenen Cornelius as “They attached … faith in their dreams … their licentious and lazy lives, their rude minds which can scarcely grasp things, the paucity of words which they have to explain our mysteries because they have never had any form of divine worship will tax our wits…” (Bennett, Cornelius 7). In the film the Jesuit priest views the Huron as much of the same but says “ I am afraid of this country the devil rules here he controls the hearts and minds of these poor people” and again when he criticizes them “

    They plan nothing they think of only the moment hunting foods” ( Black Robe 1991). The Huron think the Jesuits to be demons and “practicing a deadly form of witch craft” (Trigger 107). The cultural differences where great and numbered in many different ways between the Jesuits and the inhabitants of Huronia. In conclusion, the film accurately portrayed a many themes that reflected in the lives of natives as depicted in the two primary sources “The French Presence in Huronia: the structure of Franco-Huron relations in the first half of the 17th century” by Bruce G. Trigger and another primary document called “The Meeting of Two Worlds – Who Benefited from Indian-French Contact?” by Paul Bennett and Jaenen Cornelius. The themes of violence, sickness and cultural difference where central to both the storyline of “Black Robe” and the lives of the inhabitants of Huronia then.

    Citations:

Bennett, Paul, and Cornelius Jaenen. “The Meeting of Two Worlds – Who Benefited from Indian-French Contact?” Emerging Identities: Selected Problems and Interpretations in Canadian History. Scarborough: Prentice-Hall, 1986. 1-24. Black Robe. Dir. Bruce Beresford. Perf. Lothaire Bluteau, Aden Young, Sandrine Holt. Alliance Communications, 1991. DVD. Trigger, Bruce G. “The French Presence in Huronia: The Structure of Franco-Huron Relations in the First Half of the Seventeenth Century.” The Canadian Historical Review, vol.49, no. 2, June 1968. 107-141.

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