Addams' Family Values vs. William Bradford's Values
By Christa Liotta
While children are growing up in America, they are told several tales of America’s establishment and history. However, these stories are generally not told as they actually happened. An instance of this is the story of the Pilgrims and the first Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is explained as this elaborate ceremony where the Pilgrims and Indians gathered in harmony at this large harvest in celebration of their coming together. According to the primary document of William Bradford’s journal, Thanksgiving didn’t pan out quite as it is explained to Americans today. In the film, The Addams Family Values, the Addams children take part in a traditional, yet misconceived celebration of the first Thanksgiving. This film in comparison to Bradford’s testimony proves how Americans view their history as they please; giving America the official Thanksgiving ceremony even if it never actually happened.
In the film, Addams’ Family Values, the Addams’ are depicted as an odd American family. They practice magic, dress in all black, worship the dead, etc. In this specific film, the Addams children, Wednesday and Pugsley, are sent to summer camp. The camp is a Native American activity based camp named Camp Chippewa. At camp, Wednesday and all of her friends are considered “losers”. Wednesday and Pugsley have black hair, wear all black clothes and, along with all their friends, don’t enjoy typical kid activities, such as watching Disney movies and playing with dolls. All the other children are blonde, rich girls, who are considered the “cool kids”. They are all apples of their parent’s eyes and truly enjoy being at summer camp. The children partake in typical “Indian” activities such as shooting bow and arrow, crafts and clay art. At the end of the summer, the kids must perform a grand finale performance. The performance chosen was a reenactment of the first Thanksgiving. The “cool kids” were cast as the Pilgrims, while Wednesday and her friends were cast as the Native Americans. Wednesday is actually cast in the lead role of Pocahontas. In the beginning of the dinner performance, the Pilgrims give a speech regarding the Native Americans as savages and explain how they should become Pilgrims. In the end, the Native Americans do not enjoy a pleasant meal with the Pilgrims. Instead, they revolt, burning down the Pilgrims homes and torturing their families.
Many aspects of this film are worthy of analysis. The dual depiction of the Addams family is worthy of noting. The Addams family is portrayed as savages. They are shown as living very differently from the typical American family. They reside in a Gothic like castle, bury their pets alive, eat squirrel, etc. Interestingly, the family is actually from Europe, specifically France. The Addams family takes on a dual role of Native Americans (their savage description) and Europeans (their European background). When they send Wednesday and Pugsley to Camp Chippewa, it is actually considered to be the camp for “American’s privileged children” (Addams’ Family Values). This is a Native American based camp, yet the early Native Americans were not in anyway considered privileged by the Europeans due to their primitive way of living. When all the children take part in the typical “Indian” activities, the “savage group” is actually terrible at them while the respected group does them flawlessly. If the savage group represents the Native Americans, this event hints that the activities Americans associate with Native American culture might not actually have been things they did. At camp the children are chosen for their savage appearance rather than their European background. Our modern day stereotypes were used to choose who the Native Americans would be and who the Pilgrims would be. The Native Americans are portrayed by the out-cast children because the Pilgrims considered the Native Americans as savages. The cute, adorable, all American, blonde children were chosen for the Pilgrims. Wednesday and her friends are chosen because they’re different from the “cool kids”. One aspect of the reenactment of the first Thanksgiving that is almost unexplainable is the fact that Wednesday was cast as Pocahontas although Pocahontas wasn’t at all part Thanksgiving or the experiences of the Pilgrims. This could possibly be showing that children today relate all Native Americans to Thanksgiving because that is a major part, if not the only thing, they learn of the Native Americans. This aspect also proves that not only do Americans rewrite their own history, they also combine many aspects together for their convenience. Most children learn that Thanksgiving was a wonderful celebration. In this film, it is not shown as a happy coming together for the Native Americans and the Pilgrims. The Pilgrims criticize Native American behavior and refer to them as savage like. Wednesday gives a speech in the end explaining how the Pilgrims act like they know what the Native Americans need when really they are just torturing them. Wednesday then leads the Native Americans in a successful revolt against the Pilgrims. This chosen ending is completely the opposite of the story that Americans learn as children. Because the movie is about an untypical American family trying to live in society, this ending fit the movie perfectly. It seems almost as if the movie tried to make the Native Americans seem triumphant. Although both this film and the American tale are incorrect representations, the film completely goes against the way society has taught Americans to understand Thanksgiving.
William Bradford’s, “Of Plymouth Plantation”, gives an accurate description of the first Thanksgiving. For Bradford, the description is minimal. Thanksgiving was not the giant celebration Americans understand it to be. It hardly gets specific mention in his account. Throughout all of his writings, there is no mention at all of landing on the infamous Plymouth Rock. The mission of the Pilgrims is commonly misunderstood as a trip to discover America. However, Bradford describes that the mission was for religious purposes. The Pilgrims wanted to be separated from the Anglican Church and become Puritans. They were seeking freedom in a community that was grouped together for their desire to leave the Anglican Church. Although Americans understand the European-Native American relations to be joyous, Bradford doesn’t really describe them as such. The general Pilgrim reaction to the Native Americans was that of disgust. They look at them as “savages” (Bradford, 170) and a “poor people’s present condition” (Bradford, 168). The Pilgrims had very low expectations from the start of the Native Americans. It wasn’t until the Pilgrims first real interaction with Samoset and Squanto, two Native Americans who were able to communicate, that there was any understanding between the two groups. Bradford does give a very, very brief description entitled “First Thanksgiving” (Bradford, 179). However, he does not speak of one specific event or even day. The paragraph drifts from season to season, briefly describing hardships and harvesting. There was no mention of any celebration or even a small ceremony. In the end of, “Of Plymouth Plantation”, Bradford is actually disappointed in the way things occurred. The Pilgrims had drifted away from their original religious, communal intent. They had flourished so greatly in America through trade and the greed of building a great America. He stated that the Pilgrims were “doomed by prosperity” (Lecture). Bradford did not conclude that he was excited he was part of the First Thanksgiving. He ended on a rather sad note, having realized the Pilgrims no longer sought America as separatists.
Unfortunately, the only similarities between the film and the text are that the Native Americans depiction as savages. However, every other aspect of the film does not match up to the way Bradford experienced it. Inititally, when reading Bradford’s experience, it seems uninteresting. Americans change that by drawing different iconography out of his story in order to make it suitable for Americans. The commonly told Thanksgiving story of turkey, corn and harmony sadly doesn’t represent the Pilgrims religious reason for coming over. Americans think of the First Thanksgiving as this ceremonial coming together celebration; one specific event. Bradford spends only a few lines on it and never specifically mentions a feast or harvest or even the word Thanksgiving. The only indication is the title, “First Thanksgiving” (Bradford, 179). Americans tend to choose the common misconception although they have now discovered the true occurrence. The choosing of the preferred story can be explained through “American Exceptionalism” (Lecture). By having such a ceremonial establishment, America was able to create a national holiday. This national holiday gives America one more national celebration than all the other countries and it is a holiday personal and particular to America. Through this holiday, America becomes more exceptional than other countries. Thanksgiving is also part of America’s need for a “usable past” (Lecture-Robert Arner). This is the idea that America uses certain events in history and recreates them for a functional purpose (Lecture). There is a need for one specific ceremony to represent the beginning times of our country. By “using” history, Thanksgiving forms a place to start when recapturing history.
Rather than becoming a time to recognize William Bradford and the Pilgrim’s mission, Thanksgiving has become a commercialized, over-dramatized event. The Addams’ Family Values proves how Americans misconceive Thanksgiving in comparison to Bradford’s, “Of Plymouth Plantation”. Americans have such a need to be exceptional and different that they are willing to risk their true history for a celebration that comes only once a year. It is important for American children to learn their true history rather than the alternative in order for them to understand the struggles the original founders went through to create the America we have today.
The Addams’ Family Values. Dir. Barry Sonnenfeld Perf. Angelica Houston, Raul Julia,
Christopher Llyod, Joan Cusack, Christina Ricci, Carol Kane, Jimmy Workman. Paramount,1993.
Bradford, William. “Of Plymouth Plantation.” Ed. Nina Baym. The Norton Anthology of
American Literature. New York: 2003. 156-195.
Newman, Andrew. “William Bradford, the ‘Pilgrims’, Thanksgiving”. American
Literature I. EGL 217. 06 Feb. 2006. (cited as “Lecture”)
© Christa Liotta