Bartolomé de Las Casas

A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies

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A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies Summary & Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 53-page guide for “A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies” by Bartolomé de Las Casas includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 20 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Unimaginable Atrocity in the New World and The Colonial Gaze.

Plot Summary

Dominican Friar Bartolomé de Las Casas’s A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies is a primary source on the genocide of indigenous peoples during Spanish colonization of the Americas. This account of Las Casas, who spent much of his life in the New World, specifically spans the years 1509-1542, with some reference to the years between 1542 and 1552, when the book was published. The text mostly details events that occurred in present-day South America, around the islands of the Greater Antilles.

The text, originally composed in 1542, was written for the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V of Spain and initially sent to Prince Philip II of Spain to deliver to the emperor upon publication. The book takes a strong stance against atrocities committed by the Spanish. It argues for the necessity of new legislation to protect the indigenous people of the New World from atrocity and enslavement, as well as the cessation of granting royal licenses to new groups of colonists to commit similar atrocities. Primarily an argumentative text, A Short Account does not have a cohesive narrative. It does, however, move through the decades of Spanish conquest both chronologically and geographically, detailing acts on one island or region per chapter.

Las Casas does not use a legislative or logical style to make his arguments but primarily attempts to evoke his reader’s pity for the peoples of the Americas, whom he represents as both innocent and helpless. Much of the text is therefore comprised of descriptions of atrocity the Spanish committed on indigenous communities. In each chapter Las Casas details the devastation of the islands’ populations and landscapes by the Spanish. A Dominican friar, Las Casas writes from a Christian worldview and consistently refers to the godlessness of the colonists’ action, the clear idolatry of their greed, and the divine retribution coming for Spain.

Though a relevant historical account of Spanish colonial action, the text is rhetorical and therefore cannot be read as completely true. Las Casas often embellishes death tolls and is selective in the narratives of colonialism he presents. For example, Las Casas omits the impact of disease on the indigenous population to better support his arguments against the barbarity of Spanish atrocities. Despite the text’s clear rhetorical aims, it remains an important and early primary source on the process of genocide and a stirring account of ethical objection to atrocity. By depicting the peoples of the Americas not as savages but as intellectually, morally, linguistically, and infrastructurally developed people, the text also serves as an important early source in postcolonial theory.

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