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

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Category: Book Reports

Autor: anton 08 November 2010

Words: 1588 | Pages: 7

The Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson reveals that the ghastly depiction of the Indian religion (or what Rowlandson perceives as a lack of religion) in the narrative is directly related to the ideologies of her Puritan upbringing. Furthermore, Rowlandson’s experiences in captivity and encounter with the new, or “Other” religion of the Indians cause her rethink, and question her past; her experiences do not however cause her to redirect her life or change her ideals in any way.

The function of religion plays a significant role in the narrative, especially the dissimilarities between the narrator’s religious beliefs and the “Other” religion of her captors. More specifically the Puritan ideology of the narrator reveals the differences between religions and cultures in this novel. History has shown that although the Puritans fled to America for religious freedom, they brutalized those not of their religion and customs. After taken into captivity by the American Indians, or “ravenous bears (14) as Rowlandson describes, she conveys her strong Puritan values, by criticizing and demeaning the Indian’s religion, or as illustrated by Rowlandson, their complete lack of values, morals and religious conviction. Rowlandson portrays the Indians as a horrific species; however what Rowlandson considers evil and frightening, may be the ideals of other human beings. For instance Rowlandson, in her first encounter with the Indians, is quick to remark, “Oh the roaring, and singing, and dancing, and yelling of those black creature in the night, which made the place a lively resemblance of hell…” (14). It is obvious from this statement that Rowlandson, because of her strong principles, immediately judges those different from herself. This shows the narrators ignorance as well as her ideology. While Puritanism is a model or code of life for Rowlandson and other Puritans, it forces a strict way of life and belief system which can lead to ignorance in both behavior and attitude. The terms and images Rowlandson uses signify black, hellish, devilish peoples who have no sense of civility. Furthermore the Indians, or “Others”, who are not Christian, and practice their own spiritual customs, are viewed as barbaric and abnormal to Rowlandson.

Rowlandson’s interaction with the “Other” and her Puritan principles reveal a larger importance to the narrator. Rowlandson feels that her captivity is directly related to God’s will, and therefore believes that God is punishing her for sins she committed in her past. As a result she is determined to repent her sins to God, and devotes much of her time reading the bible, reciting scripture, and while she learns to adapt to her difficult situation, she is careful to maintain her ideals and integrity throughout the time she is detained. For example on the first Sabbath during Rowlandson’s confinement she remarks, “I remembered how careless I had been of Gods holy time: how many Sabbaths I had lost and mispent, and how evilly I had walked in Gods sight; which lay so close upon my Spirit, that it was easie for me to see how righteous it was with God to cut off the threed of my life, and cast me out if his presence for ever” (16). It is clear from this statement that the narrator attaches her encounter with the Indians, or the “Other” as a reprimand from God, and a sign that she had been sinful in the past. Had she not encountered the Indians, she may not have ever questioned her devotedness to God or her previous ways of life, like for example the way she spent her Sabbaths before captivity.

Evidence of reflection on Rowlandson’s past is also manifested in the scripture included in the narrative. Several times throughout the novel Rowlandson inserts from Isai. 54.7. in the bible, “for a small moment I have forsaken thee: but with great mercies will I gather thee” (32). This passage, which is also repeated on page 33 of the text, signifies that Rowlandson truly believes the way she lead her past has caused her miserable present state. The violations (as according to Rowlandson’s ideologies) that the Indians display in term of their religion and customs trigger the narrator to question her conduct before captivity while also strengthening her commitment to God.

It is clear that Mary Rowlandson’s encounter with the “Other” causes her to doubt her past, specifically her devotion to God. At the end of the narrative Rowlandson confirms this claim with the remark:

When I lived in prosperity; having the comforts of this World about me, my Relations by me, and my heart cheerful: and taking little care for any thing; and yet seeing many (whom I preferred before myself) under many trials and afflictions, in sickness, weakness, poverty, losses, crosses, and cares of the Worlds, I should be sometimes jealous least I should have my portion in this life…but now I see the Lord had his time to scourge and chasten me (50).

The evidence from the narrative in many ways could characterize this work as a text in which the narrator (Mary Rowlandson) realizes her mistakes in the past and redirects her life accordingly. This is not true in the case of Rowlandson, to be more specific her experiences and interaction with the Indians do not challenge her Puritan ideologies, but rather confirms and strengthens them. When the narrator returns to her former lifestyle she in no way demonstrates any new knowledge from her experience, but rather returns home with the same degree of ignorance that she had before her captivity. Rowlandson also contradicts herself in the narrative by admitting that the Indians did not harm her and then calling them “cruel heathens” a moment later (47). For example she states “not one of them ever offered the least abuse of unchastity to me, in word or action…” (46). After gaining her liberty however, Rowlandson proves she has not altered her ideals or frame of mind in regards to the Indians by stating, “I was not before so much hem’d in with the merciless and cruel Heathen, but now as much with pitiful, tenderhearted, and compassionate Christians. In the poor, and distressed and beggarly condition, I was received in…” (47). Rowlandson supports with this statement that although she challenges the way she conducted her life in the past, she obviously does not feel the need to reconcile anything. Another interesting point about Rowlandson’s statement is that she refers to her friends, family members, acquaintances etc. as “Christians,” rather than an alternative noun, which further proves her strict Puritan ideals have not been altered.

A similar instance of Rowlandson’s continued ignorance even after her encounter with the “Other” is when she reflects how God preserved the enemy, or rather the Indians, in the wilderness throughout the time she was with them. The narrator remarks, “I cannot but stand in admiration to see the wonderful power of God, in providing for such a vast number of our enemies in the Wilderness, where there was nothing to be seen, but from hand to mouth” (45). Rowlandson is in awe that God would let the Indians survive in the wilderness which shows her prejudice because it infers that non-Puritans should not be able to live and prosper solely on the basis of their religion. This is yet another example of Rowlandson’s unchanged opinion of the “Other” (American Indians).

It is clear that the Puritan religion plays a significant role in this narrative. Mary Rowlandson throughout the novel conveys to the reader her strong religious beliefs and ideals. When encountered with the challenges and difficulties of captivity, Rowlandson questions her past, and believes that God is punishing her. Throughout the novel the narrator is constantly judging the “Other,” or the Indians, painting a ghastly image of their ways and customs to the reader. Her viciousness towards the “Other” is due to her strong ideologies which cause her to be ignorant and prejudice to people different from her. Although Rowlandson questions her past, she does not then redirect her life after captivity, but rather goes back to the same way of life and same frame of mind as before.

This narrative, as reflected upon through modern eyes, shows how difficult it is to alter a person’s ideals, especially if they are raised a strict Puritan during the 1600s. If Rowlandson had returned to her Protestant community a different person, then she would have been chastised by society, and most likely not welcomed back. The goal in writing this narrative therefore was not to show readers how her experiences changed her life, but rather the opposite. Rowlandson’s aim in writing this novel was to confirm her faith to her readers, and prove to the Puritan society that religion came first even throughout the difficulties she endured during captivity. It is for this specific reason that Rowlandson paints such a horrifying picture of the Indians in the narrative, and is constantly referring to God throughout the entire text. If she had shown any sympathy towards the Indian’s and their religious beliefs, then she probably would have been ridiculed by her peers. To conclude, in the context of present day times this narrative, through Rowlandson’s own words, demonstrates that religious ideologies can be incredibly steadfast, hypocritical, and prejudice. Mary Rowlandson is proof of how binding and influential the Puritan lifestyle was during the time period.

All references taken from Woman’s Indian Captivity Narratives, ed. Kathryn Zabelle Derounian-Stodola, (Penguin).

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