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The Narrative Of The Captivity And Restoration Of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson

2244 words - 9 pages

“The Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson”, arguably the most famous captivity tale of the American Indian-English genre, is considered a common illustration of the thematic style and purpose of the English captivity narrative. As “the captivity genre leant itself to nationalist agendas” (Snader 66), Rowlandson’s narrative seems to echo other captivity narratives in its bias in favor of English colonial power. Rowlandson’s tale is easy propaganda; her depiction of Native American brutality and violence in the mid-1600s is eloquent and moving, and her writing is infused with rich imagery and apt testimony that defines her religious interpretation of the thirteen-week captivity. Yet can a more comprehensive understanding of Rowlandson’s relationship to Indians exist in a closer reading of her narrative? As “captivity materials . . . are notorious for blending the real and the highly fictive” (Namias 23), can we infer the real colonial relationships of this captivity in applying a modern understanding of economic, political and cultural transformations of American Indians?

Mary Rowlandson was captive under King Phillips’s wife’s sister, and varying other Algonquian masters from February 20, 1676 through May 2, 1676. She recorded her narrative “as the war was slipping away from the Indians” (Calloway 93) and published it with popular acclaim. In the context of this tumultuous time, “it would be a grave mistake to ignore the clear indications that this narrative was intended primarily as a record of the author’s spiritual practices and to assume a specific existential and moral stance in the world” (Ebersole 20). Rowlandson’s intentions for the narrative no doubt “served religious and political aims” for consumption by the general public (Namias 29). Rowlandson’s rich mastery of language and intention were peddled by publishers looking for a buying market. English publishers marketed the narrative based on her engaging and palpable metaphors and adventuresome spirit, in addition to her subject matter. Rowlandson evokes the looming image of “Indians…as thick as trees” on pg 318, and weaves immediate action and excitement into her isolation: “it seemed to be as if there had been a thousand hatchets going at once. If one looked before one there was nothing but Indians, and behind one, nothing but Indians, and so on either hand, I myself in the midst and no Christian soul near me . . .”. Rowlandson’s narrative is even poetic in describing her good fortune to have a Bible during her thirteen-week ordeal; scripture “was a sweet cordial to me when I was ready to faint” (Rowlandson 316). Yet did Rowlandson's embellishing pen write for the literary thrill of London audiences or her obedient record of God’s will in her life?

Rowlandson’s cultural lens and authorial intent are two complex perspectives to interpret. She is a white British woman in colonial America, writing of her captivity with the Algonquian Indians for...

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