Lies My Teacher Told Me

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The First Thanksgiving Symbol Analysis

The First Thanksgiving Symbol Icon

There aren’t many symbols in Lies My Teacher Told Me, since it’s a work of nonfiction (and, in a way, a work of meta-nonfiction, or nonfiction about nonfiction). One exception to this rule is the first Thanksgiving, as Loewen describes it in Chapter 3. Most history textbooks treat the New England pilgrims’ first Thanksgiving, during which they (supposedly) invited the local Native Americans to dine with them, as a literal historical event. Loewen argues that the first Thanksgiving was, in fact, nothing of the kind: it was a myth, invented by the pilgrims and their descendants to justify the European settlers’ expansion into North America. Loewen argues that the first Thanksgiving is meant to symbolize the unequal exchange between European settlers and Native Americans—the Europeans invited the natives to their meal, not the other way around. In a broader sense, the first Thanksgiving is an apt symbol for the way that history textbooks distort the facts to create a comforting, ethnocentric myth.

The First Thanksgiving Quotes in Lies My Teacher Told Me

The Lies My Teacher Told Me quotes below all refer to the symbol of The First Thanksgiving. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Bias Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Touchstone edition of Lies My Teacher Told Me published in 2007.
Chapter 3 Quotes

The archetypes associated with Thanksgiving—God on our side, civilization wrested from wilderness, order from disorder, through hard work and good Pilgrim character—continue to radiate from our history textbooks.

Related Symbols: The First Thanksgiving
Page Number: 88
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Loewen offers the story of the “first Thanksgiving” as a classic example of a creation myth disguised as history. While history textbooks claim that there was a literal first Thanksgiving, during which the civilized pilgrims of New England invited the wild, half-naked Native Americans to dine with them, Loewen suggests that the truth was very different. If there was a first Thanksgiving at all, then the Native Americans would have hosted the pilgrims and provided them with food—not the other way around.

Loewen makes an important point about history: history textbooks don’t necessarily offer false information about the pilgrims, but they distort and exaggerate the facts to paint a semi-mythical picture of the “first Americans.” In theory, the only purpose of history should be to report on the past. However, Loewen shows that the purpose of the first Thanksgiving story is much broader and more abstract: to reinforce certain ethnocentric ideas about the superiority of Western, European culture, and to celebrate, in an almost ritualistic sense, the colonization of America.


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The First Thanksgiving Symbol Timeline in Lies My Teacher Told Me

The timeline below shows where the symbol The First Thanksgiving appears in Lies My Teacher Told Me. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 3: The Truth About the First Thanksgiving
Bias Theme Icon
Ambiguity Theme Icon
The Role of Ideas in History Theme Icon
...settled in Holland, followed by North America, where they befriended the Native Americans and celebrated Thanksgiving together. Most students know nothing about the diseases that English fishermen brought with them from... (full context)
Bias Theme Icon
Another aspect of American history that every schoolchild knows is the “first Thanksgiving.” But the story of the first Thanksgiving is a creation myth, not a piece of... (full context)
Bias Theme Icon
Ambiguity Theme Icon
The Role of Ideas in History Theme Icon
The “Thanksgiving myth” is highly condescending, if not overtly racist, toward Native Americans. Schoolchildren are taught that... (full context)
Bias Theme Icon
Ambiguity Theme Icon
There may not have been a literal “first Thanksgiving.” However, the pilgrims’ relationship with the Native Americans was, in some ways, worth celebrating. Even... (full context)