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Literary Analysis of Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson

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The sense of real Christian’s life is to Love the Lord your God and your neighbors with all Your heart. These words appear to all Christians all over the world, but the puritan woman’s way of living in the 17th century was based not only on service of God, but also on a staunch belief that the Puritans were the chosen people of God. The events of 1675-1676 when the conflict between the British colonists and the natives burst out in Massachusetts and when King Phillip’s war started laid the foundation of a new genre of literature. It represented descriptions of some British colonists’ captivity experience, memories of people who returned from the Indian usurpation. Mary Rowlandson published the first work of this genre. The name of the work is Narrative of the Captivity and the Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson, which based on her galling experience. This work became a bestseller in America. It was an example of Puritan’s living concepts reinforcement. “The motivation for publishing her account seems to have been to promote the puritan belief that God is the active agent who punishes and saves Christian believers” (Scarbrough, 2011).

It was popular for about two hundred years and published in four editions. The first edition appeared in Boston; second and third in Cambridge; and the fourth edition appeared in London.  However, when the popularity of the book became low, the critical activity raised. The main reason of critical attention was the contrast between details of narrative and the way of interpreting them. Editors and reviewers estimated two styles of the narrative: the first is “the colloquial style”, describing characters of persons and situations, and second style called “the biblical” style, which was aimed at showing an author as an observer and commentator. However, at first Mary Rowlandson wrote the narrative for people who lived around her, in other words, for the Puritans. Therefore, it is necessary to tell about this society and what are the basics of its religious apprehension of the world. The concept of the Puritans is based on their strong belief into a covenant with God. John Winthrop, the author of “A Modell of Christian Charity” represented the Puritans as chosen people of God: “We are entered into Covenant with Him. ... we hall be as a citty upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us” (Winthrop, 1975, p. 68).

Mary Rowlandson was a respectable woman and a wife of a servant, so she was interested in the representation of herself as a respected woman from the Puritan society who personified the real Christian woman. If we apply it to the beginning of the book, it will be saying without doubt that the day when the Indians came to Mary’s house was a hard trial, which showed all acts of hostility and violence. Many people died despite of their efforts to protect their lives and Mary was held by the Indians and separated from her children. In spite of Mary’s strong spirit, she could not change the situation: “I should choose rather be killed by them than taken alive, but when it came to the trial my mind changed: their glittering weapons so daunted my spirit” (Rowlandson, 2009). Therefore, Mary fined herself in captivity sitting on snow-covered ground and holding her sick child in her arms.

Rowlandson needed to show that in spite of captivity, pain, and death of her child, she kept her faith and strong belief in God. It is understood that the importance of religion in the Puritan society was great and it is shown trough all pages of the narrative. It seems that Rowlandson really identifies the society of colonists with scriptural people of Israel. The next example of religious life is how Mary wrote about the Sabbath day: “When the Sabbath came they bade me go to work. I told them it was the Sabbath day, and desired them to let me rest, and told them I would do as much more tomorrow; to which they answered me they would break my face. And here I cannot but take notice of the strange providence of God in preserving the heathen” (Rowlandson, 2009). The Sabbath day had a great importance in the Puritan society and acknowledging it would give Rowlandson greater loving-kindness from God as well as from her native society.

Rowlandson decided to pass through a terrible ordeal with deep and strong faith in God and appertained to this trial as to a punishment of God for people who disobeyed him. She describes the clash between the Indians and the British colonists as a work of God who discharged anger upon the people who decided to presume their covenant as His chosen people.

Rowlandson applies the Bible all the time to her narrative; it is one thing that remained after robberies. By dint of the Bible, she used to draw a parallel between scriptural stories and the conflict. Rowlandson demonstrates her persuasion that the Puritans are God chosen people when she refers to the scriptural story of Joseph. God punished three of Joseph’s brothers who had no repentance when they sold Joseph into the slavery and then they were captured, too. With relation to this story, Mary compares brothers of Joseph with the British colonists who also disobeyed God. She also compares her people who turned up in captivity with the nation of Israel because, as we know, the Israeli people were a God chosen nation in scriptural stories. She did not put the blame on the Indians because she was sure that it was the work of God: “Come, behold the works of the Lord, what desolations He has made in the earth” (Rowlandson, 2009). In Rowlandson’s opinion, the victory of the Natives was a result of breaking a covenant between the Puritans and God.

The next idea of this narrative is the role of woman as a mother. Looking back, Mary stayed without most of her children and her husband. Only sick little daughter Sarah stayed with mother. Then she died and Rowlandson found herself in a tighter situation than she had been before: “At any other time I could not bear to be in the room where any dead person was, but now the case is changed; I must and could lie down by my dead babe” (Rowlandson, 2009). Consequently, she was constraint to do things that made a conflict with views of her society and changed an image of a puritan woman. For example, she began to sell different goods to save her life, although that trading was in contradiction with traditional doing of a Puritan woman. “Amongst other things which my husband sent me, there came a pound of tobacco, which I sold for nine shillings in money; for many of the Indians for want of tobacco, smoked hemlock, and ground ivy. It was a great mistake in any, who thought I sent for tobacco; for through the favor of God, that desire was overcome” (Rowlandson, 2009). Nevertheless, she was in deal with different sewn goods made by woman’s hands. In spite of her slavery status, Rowlandson realized her accomplishments and her real standing in her native society. Notwithstanding, she also “Recognizes Weetamoo's social status by comparing her to a lady of the ’gentry’ but concurrently declines to recognize her political and military roles” (Potter, 2003). However, Rowlandson did compensate in appearance for the status; “when they came near, there was a vast difference between the lovely Faces of Christians, and the foul looks of those Heathens” (Rowlandson, 2009).

It is evident that she did not pay any respect to the culture of Native Americans and feared all aspects of life that did not apply to the Christian world. Rowlandson also called the Native Americans as “heathen” that underlines her distrust and total antagonism to the culture and religion of the Natives. The situations when the Indians really helped Rowlandson are described very shortly.

By the puritan apprehension of the world, Rowlandson determined that all these terrible tests and anguishes that she had were the instruments of God to punish His children. She strongly believed that all the pain of colonists was the work of God. She also believed that her misery was purposive: “It is not my tongue, or pen, can express the sorrows of my heart, and bitterness of my spirit that I had at this departure: but God was with me in a wonderful manner, carrying me along, and bearing up my spirit, that it did not quite fail” (Rowlandson, 2009).

When she fined herself in rough conditions of capture, even when she saw how the Americans did not cross the river to follow the Natives with whom the woman was, she did not have doubts that it was a divine will: “God did not give them courage or activity to go over after us. We were not ready for so great a mercy as victory and deliverance” (Rowlandson, 2009). Even military success of the Indians was explained as a divine intervention.

Consequently, Mary Rowlandson pointed out an unavoidable punishment for all enemies of the Puritans. With a foundation of scripture, she arrived at the conclusion that her captivation and clash were a part of God’s plan to regulate relations between people. Thus, God punished the colonists when they disobeyed Him and took the wrong turning. Nevertheless, he also helped them when they came back to the way of faith and understood that their lives depended on the God’s decision. Pertaining to the Indians, God never made punishments or rewards because they were only instruments for discharging His anger upon the Puritans. One cannot but wonder that a puritan woman wrote a narrative in accordance with religious morality of the society she belonged to. Thus, she apprehended to be a judge for her actions .Properly, she took any opportunity to show the Natives as violent non-Christians and to criticize their culture. By the way, Mary Rowlandson lived among different native groups such as Wampanoags, Nipmucs, and Narragansetts. All of them stood against the uprising of the English population and English priority in New England. Since 1630, when the event named “The Great Migration” happened, the large number of the native population was gone. The main reason of depopulation was spreading of disease because most Natives were not immune to them. So, it was a beginning of a conflict between the British colonists and the Native Americans.

Doubtless, Mary Rowlandson had a strong belief in the covenant of the Puritans with God. It finds the provident in the words, which Mary said when her family reunited: “Now I have seen that scripture also fulfilled…  God will put all these curses upon thane enemies and on them that hate thee, which persecuted thee…” (Rowlandson, 2009). Her experience in captivity taught her to understand her neighbors and to forgive enemies.

A narrative of Mary Rowlandson founded a new genre in the American literature, the captivity narrative. It inspired not only writers, but also established a tradition of the American cinematography in 1950’s. Such as in Rowlandson’s autobiographical account, many later narratives characterized the Native Americans as the savage foemen. Thus, the stories about Daniel Boon and John Smith tell us about glorious heroes who defended others from the savage enemy. In spite of some shocking moments of Mary Rowlandson’s story, it is an affective and interesting writing, which brings the reader to the picture of early America. 

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