Sunday, January 30, 2011

Rowlandson, Captivity Narrative

Please answer one of the following questions:

--We can see Mary Rowlandson's narrative of her captivity as a "contact zone" text, akin to Cabeza de Vaca's Relation. Compare the two texts, with their descriptions of and their attitudes toward the Native Americans.

--Like Thomas Shepard's autobiography, Rowlandson presents a narrative of her spiritual experience as well as her temporal/physical one. What similarities or differences to Shepard do you find here?

--In Danforth's sermon, he cites from the Bible and takes up the role of Jeremiah to remind Puritans of their covenant with God and their present-day failings. What sorts of Bible figures does Rowlandson cite and identify herself with here? What does this suggest about how she envisions herself?


  1. I think both Rowlandson and De Vaca's texts are sort of like "traveling tales." Mary gives honest interpretations and real facts about what she sees and what happens to her family and to herself. However, I can't help but feel as if Mary's accounts seems a lot more passive. Like she was simply going through the motions and trying to stay alive. She gave a lot more personal descriptions. Like constantly worrying about her children and being in pain. There's obviously a lot more fear inside Mary. She constantly mentioned how there wasn't a Christian fellow to help her or pray for her or talk to her. Nonetheless, Mary, like De Vaca shows great strength given her situation, and while there is fear, she doesn't seem to show hatred or contempt. She constantly thanks God for giving her the strength to keep walking and she brings up how her own sins, like her days on the Sabbath, probably contributed to her situation.

  2. Both Cabeza de Vaca and Rowlandson's writings are travel texts, this is true. Much of their content and most definitely their purpose was different. In a way, Cabeza de Vaca humanized the "other" in a way Rowlandson does not attempt to, for obvious circumstances. Her contact with the Indians was far less civilized. She faced atrocities that prevent that from coming through the text too much. Cabeza de Vaca also had far less emphasis on God, which I believe is because he wasn't in constant fear. I think that God gave her the strength to live to tell her tale, mostly because most other women may not have been so strong through all of those experiences. Cabeza de Vaca also analyzed the social aspect of Indian life. He gave much more informational detail about their diet, family structure and morals, and other differences that people could learn from. Rowlandson's narrative did more to scare people of the Indians, which in some cases apparently needed to be done. At the beginning of the Native American genocide, I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of people read this, because there was little remorse for killing Natives.

  3. I think probably the biggest difference between de Vaca and Rowlandson’s narratives is the relationship between the European and Native group. De Vaca’s native group viewed him highly, almost as a godlike figure. They seemed to take care of him and at very least treated him like one of their own. Rowlandson, however, is treated more like property. Little compassion is given her, and generally she is treated as a disposable (though sometimes useful) object. I agree with the comment that maybe Rowlandson was trying to scare people, but maybe de Vaca was trying to as well. Both narratives can be read as cautionary tales.
    -Rebecca Zurbrick

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  5. Mary Rowlandson peppers her narrative with Scriptural allusions with a frequency that only a Renaissance humanist poet could match in references to the characters and concepts of classical antiquity. It is apparent from the text that the Puritan mind only focuses on the Bible when groping for inspiration or for determining a means of expressing complex ideas that contemporary language fails to articulate, much in the same way that the latter looks to ancient Greek literature and myths. Yet the Puritan thought tradition departs from both Medieval interpretations of the Bible and the succeeding period of veneration for the texts of the ancient world by creating a highly individualized practice of application. Truths derived from the Scriptures are no longer those apparent to all men, per the older Catholic (i.e. universal), pre-Reformation tradition. Instead, God is meant to reveal the verisimilitude of Biblical concepts piecemeal to each individual as he or she is prepared to receive it. Although the Puritans acknowledged repeatedly the parallels between their "chosen" status and the collective destiny of the ancient Israelites, in practice, their theology coalesces around the destiny of the individual rather than the sanctified nation or group, as Rowlandson's frequent comparisons between herself and Biblical figures confirm.

    Perhaps the most commonly cited character in the account is Job, against whom, God sanctions Satan to wreak horrendous trials. Job is ultimately rewarded with a reformed insight into his own existence and a massive increase in his temporal prosperity. It is easy to see why Rowlandson identifies with this character in hindsight of her travails among the Indians, as her deliverance from her captors into the society of compassionate Christian neighbors that appear to selflessly maintain her welfare aligns with the narrative of Job's biography. According to her account, the tribulations she has endured permit her a heightened perspicacity into her existence, which she views as God's reward for not abandoning her faith in the most desperate of moments. Summarizing this idea that her mind is host to a new understanding of her reality, in one of the final lines of the account, Rowlandson states, "If trouble from smaller matters begin to arise, I have something at hand to check myself with, and say, 'Why am I troubled?' ...I have learned to look beyond the present..."

    Continuing, Rowlandson's language reveals the Puritan view that such enlightenment must always come at a price. Citing Hebrews, she depicts a life of devotion to God in a fashion that mirrors Puritan parenting practices of the day: that a believer is a child who will only find guidance in submission to the austere discipline of an authoritarian parent. Citing Hebrews 12:6, "For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every Son whom he receiveth," Rowlandson vaunts her experience as a spiritual sine qua non; she attributies no utility to the inimical Natives who have "wronged" her beyond their role in God's objectives for her life. It is this deprivation of agency from human existence and its surrender to the deity that is the defining theme of her narrative, and the Puritan frame of mind in general.

  6. I trust Mary Rowlandson’s version of her time with Native Americans. With absolutely no background, she just launches right in with the attack on her family’s house. And as far as her experience goes, it’s harder than Cabeza de Vaca’s. Maybe she didn’t spend as much time in the wilderness but her circumstances were worse. The nine days she carried around her mortally wounded daughter puts Cabeza de Vaca’s nine years of wandering to shame. He just had to worry about himself. Hell, he even had a servant. It’s clear that Rowlandson had trouble writing the part about her daughter because she doesn’t mention her name until after she dies. All Cabeza de Vaca seems to lament is the lack of food and clothes.

    Their views of native life are very similar. Rowlandson initially focuses on the negatives like the initial kidnapping, being kept from her kids, and the lack of compassion for her daughter. But if you objectively look at how they treated her, it seems like it could have been worse. Slaves have it worse. They didn’t beat her, they didn’t beat her kids, and she in some ways she was actually integrated into their society. Sure it was hard to keep up with the nomadic Native American way of life—but that was normal for them and not a targeted form of torture for her; they all did it.

    Take away the raid on Rowlandson’s family and it was like reading Cabeza de Vaca’s account of hunger and hard work. However, Cabeza de Vaca basically made the natives out to be childlike, kind, good, very, very good, and not at all the dangerous warriors that Rowlandson knew. Also Rowlandson’s version feels more honest because even though her daughter was murdered, she didn’t just write about their savageness—though she could have. Instead she writes about how some of them helped her out. She didn’t have to do that, she could have said they were all murderers.

  7. Shepard’s autobiography and Rowlandson’s narrative hold more differences than they do similarities. In terms of spiritual experience, I see Shepard’s autobiography as more of a focus on a struggle with spirituality. He describes trials he believes God has put him through and seems to have a real disconcert over whether or not those trials were really necessary in his life. He also describes times when he would waver between being connected or disconnected with God. Rowlandson on the other hand never wavers her strong faith and belief in God. Throughout her narrative she describes times where she would look to Bible verses and they would calm her or remind her that God is with her. She also never questions what God is putting her through, she simply does what she needs to in order to survive. I saw her work as the epitome of how a perfect puritan would view God. In some ways, she reminded me of how Shepard described his wife, as being wholeheartedly devoted to God. No matter the pain she was put through, she was always concerned with how God would view her actions and always thanked him through constant prayer.

    I did find that Shepard and Rowlandson’s descriptions of events were very similar. Both authors really did not hold anything back in terms of emotion toward events that were happening to them. The both described how they honestly felt about situations, which made both of their works very compelling and eye-opening. However, I do think that Shepard and Rowlandson were both extreme opposites in the way that they honestly felt about God and the things he put them through.

    --Jessica Schuster

  8. One of the biggest difference between Cabeza de Vaca and Rowlandson’s texts is the style. Cabeza de Vaca’s was his relation, whereas Rowlandson’s was her captivity narrative. This affected the way that each other felt about and how they wrote about the Native Americans.

    Cabeza de Vaca took much more time to observe the Native Americans. He complained a lot about the hardships he suffered, but it also seemed like more of a way for him to gain pity from readers. He worked closely with the Native Americans and developed friendships with them. Cabeza de Vaca even argued with the Spaniards to prevent the Indians from becoming their slaves, showing the relationship he had developed with his time spent with them. In return, the Native Americans saw to it that he would be safe. By the end of his writing, it seemed that Cabeza de Vaca had really become one with the Native Americans and had assimilated into their culture.

    On the other hand, Rowlandson was taken by the Native Americans, and therefore had a more negative view of them. Her faith in God helped her persevere through some of the more trying times as they traveled around the Massachusetts area. She was frequently frustrated with the Native Americans, yet it also seemed to me like she wasn’t suffering as badly as she could have been considering she was their slave. They let her ride on the horse with her sick child and allowed her to go visit her son at one point. There were also a few Native Americans who showed her graciousness, such as the squaw who provided her with food on several occasions. Overall, though, Rowlandson did not appreciate the situation she was in as a slave to the Native Americans.

  9. Both Cabeza a de Vaca and Mary Rowlandson had experiences with the Indians while traveling. Their experiences though, are very different, as their outlooks on the Indians diverge. Last week when we read Cabeza de Vaca, he had pretty much only good things to say about the Indians from the beginning. They were not a barbarous group of people, but showed "brotherly love" amongst each other and outsiders. Even though Cabeza de Vaca endured hardship and hungry days, he did not have to watch his loved ones die, nor hope to be sold to his spouse and forever away from the Indians. Cabeza even wrote about being a free agent while among the Avavares and were treated very well by them (44). Even during his departure from the Indians, he did not want to depart from them, but stay with them regardless of their living condition and "strange customs".
    Mary Rowlandson endured (so far in the texts from "The First Move" to "The Twelfth Move") some of the worst times of her life, watching her sister and daughter die and trying to hold back her tears in front of the Indians. Secretly reading the bible and going to visit her enslaved son against the will of her master and mistress. Rowlandson is extremely humble in these text, and hold on to God's word whole-heartedly. Even at her absolute worst, she is humble enough to quote bible verses that can either justify her catastrophe, or inspire her to continue to endure (Ex. She read from the book of Job and Psalms). Even though she called the master her best friend amongst the Indians, she continues to yearn for the day that she is away from them and with her remaining family.

  10. (her spiritual experience as well as her temporal/physical one. What similarities or differences- between Shepard and Rowlandson)

    At the forefront of either reading resides a religious understanding that exemplifies the fidelity between scripture and members of a congregation. Both having strong roots in Puritan tradition, the safety and comfort lies much in the hands of the unseen spirit of god. To both person's well-being, a perpetual sense of self-critique manifests from years of discipline. More specifically, as these two protagonists seek refuge and security in either of their adventures, the will of God is what decides their fate, and knowing such has given them an irrefutable strength.

    Though, as we hear accounts from both a man, and a woman's perspective, one is led to believe that the differences in interpretation are multi-faceted. One one hand, Mary is a mother to a dying child, and a son with whom she makes scarce contact. As a mother at the time, perhaps her primary role has been tarnished. And in the eyes under God, how must she cope with the obviously foreign shift in purpose. As a caregiver, she has but one disposition to continue, that of providing without instinct to prosecute the transgressor to her saftey.
    Separetly, Shepard finds the reality and cynicism in war time as more of an indication that God's word is inneviatble, and that death and faith are but shoulder distance apart. In saying that, he similarly welcomes a sense of critique toward his past as an indication of his future, saying, "I saw that if I had profited by former afflictions of this nature, I should not have had this scourge; but i am the Lord's and He may do with me what He will." Such displays the familiar Calvinist principle of Total Depravity, in which everyone, including Shepard, exists soley because the grace of God. And so, perhaps to deal with the fate bestowed upon him, he regrets parts of his past that may've acted spiritually as reasons for his demise.
    Though, as close as Shepard appears to accepting death, Rowlandson does as well, with her constant reference to the beheading of many English captives. In fact, she ends the piece with, "I told them the skin was off my back, but i had other comforting answer from them than this: that it would be no matter if my head were off too" (250). And so the two may be like-minded in their acceptance of fate. Though it must be noted that even in such danger, Rowlandson is one who preserves a sense of dignity for herself, and by which she is able to reason with her captors.
    Despite the evils she encounters with watching other captives being "stripped naked", and the like, she maintains a stance of reasoning, through bartering services for food. Making clothes for the Indians becomes a profitable way for keeping herself comfotable.
    Though, it should not be overlooked that the bold stance of Shepard just so effectively represents the the strong momentum, birthed from the innate Puritan fire within. He embodies the crusader, one to fight the good fight, under the eyes of the lord. His efforts will, like Rowlandson's, go unnoticed according to doctrine. And despite either the two's physical degradation and stress at the time, an eventual salvation is almost guaranteed, in their mind's eye.

  11. For Rowlandson life among the Native people was a very degrading experience where she was put in a position where the Natives were her superior and she was used as a slave/servant. This is the main difference between Cabeza de Baca's experience and Rowlandson becuase he was thought of as a very high superior figure, or at least an equal to the Natives. Although both of them suffered similar hardships in terms of finding food and living minimally, Cabeza de Baca was given more privelages and freedoms than Rowlandson. For example, Rowlandson describes how when she would come across food, there was always chance of someone stealing it away from her if she didn't hide it. However, in the case of Cabeza de Baca, he described an instance where although there were scarce amounts of food, the Natives still shared what they had with him.