Analysis of Mary Rowlandson’s Captivity and Restoration

Around the time of the late 1600’s, it was extremely uncommon that an individual would encounter a professionally published piece of work written by a woman, let alone one that achieved notable fame. Mary Rowlandson’s Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson was one of the first to break that mold by advertising itself as a religious text. During the time of King Philip’s war, Native American inhabitants were launching attacks on colonists in present-day New England.The settlers viewed the attacks as retribution by an angry God against a rebellious people who had given into corruption and fallen from the Godliness of former generations. Rowlandson’s narrative tension between an understanding of the insufficiencies associated with the Indian lifestyle, combined with her overall encouragement of the Puritan way, reflects the complications associated with multiple publications that emerged during this time period. However, at first glance it is unclear whether or not Rowlandson published her narrative with the intention of releasing it as a religious and beneficial testimony to those who have experienced suffering, or with the purpose of emphasizing her personal achievements and rights as a woman.

The instant and extended popularity of the narrative might be explained by the highly publicized Lancaster invasions and by Rowlandson’s well-known position as a minister’s wife. Her writings had to be presented in a manner that would attract people’s attention, regardless of the reader’s gender, race, or socioeconomic background. When examining the original cover of the publication, Rowlandson is portrayed as a woman holding a gun and protecting her town from a group of Native Americans. Oddly enough, Mary Rowlandson never actually picked up a gun, not even once, during her recorded narrative. So the question is, why would her publishing company depict her in this manner? Perhaps they wanted to embody her experiences and difficult encounters, or maybe they thought that a woman holding a weapon would be intriguing to those who identified with the country’s recent movement towards its independence from England. Nevertheless, the audience that identified with Rowlandson’s story the most were Puritan readers, due to the fact that the captives were seen as representatives of their religious community.

Throughout the narrative, Rowlandson references an enormous amount of scripture. The purpose of this would be to create a record of her interactions with God, using instances of both positive and negative situations as a source of learning. The entire description of how she progressed through her experiences creates a story that inspires faith. The narrative provides answers, examples, and guidance for future Puritan readers.Rowlandson gains confidence in seeing herself as one with the bible, visualizing herself as part of the story, and ultimately distinguishing herself to be on the same level as the Israelites and God’s other chosen people. She truly believes that she has been chosen, and it could undoubtedly be a testament to her status as one of God’s children. While exploring her account, it can be inferred that Rowlandson views the Native Americans as non-chosen ones. Every time that an Indian helps her, she automatically sees them as just an instrument of God, for he is the one coming to her aid and they are just under his influence. Still, by the end of the narrative the Native Americans ransom her out for her release, overall showing kindness and compassion towards her well-being, which is seemingly ironic because it displays how they are capable of exemplifying Christian views just as well, if not more, than her own people. Rowland’s acknowledgement of this, as well as her documented moments of doubt in her spirituality, suggests that she may not be as inherently Puritan as she initially appears.

The narrative describes Rowlandson’s twenty personal “removes” taken from her home in Lancaster. In her situation, a remove can be defined as something being taken away, such as her pride or her Godliness. It is a spiritual progression from who she originally was to who she has become. In the first remove, she is separated from material items, a few of which being her cows, chickens, and family home. During the second remove, she looses her dignity after being ridiculed for falling off of a horse, as well her will to live, her town, and everything that she knows well. The death of her child, Sarah, occurs in remove number three. Here she looses the connection to her family, specifically because she isn’t aware of the location of the burial site and is unable to visit the grave in the future. The fourth remove resumes the pattern of being divided her from loved ones. Her individuality continues to be torn away, specifically up until remove eight, where she does something she probably wouldn’t have at the beginning of the story: She invites her master to dinner. It isn’t until remove thirteen that she begins to lose comfort in God and the Bible’s teachings:

I remembered how on the night before and after the Sabbath, when my family was about me, and relations and neighbors with us, we could pray and sing, and then refresh our bodies with the good creatures of God; and then have a comfortable bed to lie down on; but instead of all of this, I had only a little swill for the body and then, like a swine, must lie down on the ground. I cannot express to man the sorrow that lay upon my spirit; the Lord knows it. Yet that comfortable Scripture would often come to mind, “For a small moment have I forsaken thee, but with great mercies will I gather thee.” (Rowlandson 274)

Although, in this passage she only doubted her spirituality for a brief moment, it is significant enough to where one can infer that there may have been alternative motives, not just her faith, that were driving her to document and publish this experience. While living in Lancaster, Rowlandson made it abundantly clear that the men of her town weren’t living up to their expected patriarchal duties. During the attack, she only described the men that were killed, making it a point to feature the ones that lacked the ability to protect her. Once Rowlandson was captured, it was apparent that she had to rely on her own ways of defense. Using her previous skills as a housewife, she worked her way under her master’s wing of shelter by utilizing her manufacturing services, particularly in reference to the clothing she would knit for him. Though her master provided for her, Rowlandson was actually undermining the sovereignty of male leadership by working under a non-patriarchal man. The Indians at the time of this narration were mostly gynocratic, meaning that women were at the top of the social ladder and assumed the role of making vital decisions (Allen 32). This explains why Rowlandson and the master’s wife were always at odds with each other. Rowlandson was aiming to please her master, partly because that was what she was accustomed to, but the master’s wife was actually the one who anticipated receiving respect.

From a personal perspective, it seems to me that Rowlandson was aware of the chance to prove herself as a woman to other Puritan followers. Even though her narrative was purely spiritual, the author saw an opportunity to inspire her gender during a time where such a thing was easily discouraged and overlooked. From an unassuming perspective, the text offered a vibrant recount of her religious journey and commitment to her faith, offering reassurance to those Puritans who needed to see someone’s sovereignty be tested with successful results. However, the true underlying moral is for women to see that they have the ability to survive without the support of men and expose this audience to the fact that there are actually other societies that endorse the notion of female leadership. While this text may be popularly interpreted as a spiritually driven captivity narrative, Rowlandson may have very well known that some women would dig deeper into the meaning of the story and hopefully empower themselves as human beings.

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