Research paper on `Mary Rowlandsons: A Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson.
Article by Sharon M. Harris:
This is an article by Sharon M. Harris of Texas Christian University on Mary White Rowlandson (1637-1711). It relates to her three-month captivity during King Philip’s War (1675-1678) by Algonkian Indians. This is the story of her real-life captivity. America faced many challenges, the important one being the American Revolution and this story provided lots of inspiration to the people as for their rights and as for God’s challenge to the Nation. Her awful experience in captivity proved to be an icon of a national ideology. Family details apart, the root cause of the present story are the events that culminated in King Philip’s War in New England. Serious conflicts occurred between the colonists and the indigenous people of the region. The peace and tranquility in the life of Rowlandson in Lancaster was highly disturbed. “Inter-colonial and inter-tribal differences—between the governments of Plymouth, Massachusetts Bay, and Rhode Island on the one hand, and between Algonkian tribes such as the Wampanoags, Narragansetts, and the Mohegans on the other—created an atmosphere of strained relations that abetted the outbreak of war.” (Harris…) The reason for the war was encroachments of the land of Algonkians by the euro-American settlers. On February 10, 1976 a group of Nararagansett Indians attacked the village of Lancaster, and Mary Rowlandson and the three children were fortunate to be taken as captives as many of her neighbors and relatives were killed. Sarah the youngest child died within a week of the captivity, Rowlandson was ransomed on May 2, 1676 and after several weeks they were able to secure the release of their other two children. This is the story of her captivity for about three months.
The events related to Rowlandson’s captivity are described in her autobiographical narrative. She gives the account of them in the twenty “removes”. The war initiated for territorial ambitions by the leaders of the Plymouth Company, escalated, things went out of control, and there were murders and revenge murders between the two warring sections of people, resulting in King Philip’s war that lasted for about three years. Both the parties, the New England and Algonkians suffered heavily and their territories were shattered. The publication of an autobiography is a very simple affair in the present times. But the author argues in his thesis that it was a major issue as per the circumstance and religious beliefs prevailing in that era. The Puritans were not kindly disposed towards women. It was against women’s public speaking and writing. Her experiences were exceptional and the decision to publish the book was more exceptional and was done at the intervention of the top religious authorities, for their selfish reasons. Her suffering in captivity is related to God’s way of testing her faith. The leading Congregationalist clergymen, Increase Mather who wrote the preface to the first edition of her book were prominent among them, to support the publication, as they had the problem of decreasing church membership in New England. The impact of this book was felt beyond the shores of England. The Native Americans were dubbed as savages belonging to the Satan’s domain by the colonists. The extension of this crude thinking was that the removal of the Algokians and other native peoples was in the national interest—what a queer logic of the colonists, for their territorial aggrandizement! When one encounters such grim experiences, one becomes cynical; but Rowlandson faced her life in its trials and tribulations; she had to cope up with the loss of her daughter in captivity; she lost her husband; married and again lost her husband for the second time. Her behavioral adaptations were a marvel. She survived through tough ordeals .The account depicted her prejudices and religious beliefs but considering the period to which she belonged, it needs to be emphasized that she honestly expressed her opinions about her personal sufferings, the lessons involved in her psychological trauma and her girt to come out of difficult situations. The article gives clear indications about the religious and the sociological conditions prevailing in the seventeenth century England.
Article by Paul P. Reuben:
This is an article by Paul P. Reuben. The author gives details how a book written by a woman in the year 1682 estimated to have sold 1000 copies. A book related to the England history became the American bestseller. Apart from the summary given in the first part of the essay above, the human element involved in her captivity is moving. This relates to Sarah’s death and her unwillingness to part with the child’s body. This heartrending description in the story is moving. How she underwent the ordeal for nine days, when she saw her baby wounded and suffering without any treatment except sprinkling of cold water on the pain giving wound. She kept the vigil on the dead body of her child, the whole night. This tragic event in her life did not affect her resolve to live and the love of God saw her through this bitter crisis. After three months in captivity, the family was reunited, Rowlandson first, and later the two children were released. Later, she bore the grief of the death of her two children and two husbands and yet she lived life in through the trials and tribulations of these tragedies.
Her book is hailed as the colonial classic, as it gives the account of life in that period, viewed from sociological and religious angles. The suffering during the captivity was inevitable, coupled with the human tragedy of the loss of her daughter, Sarah; but the important aspect is, her religious beliefs were tested and her faith and the will of God, saw her through the worst crisis. Her matchless inner power gave her courage to withstand the ordeals. She often turned to scriptures to understand the true meaning of God’s revelations through her suffering. She relates her small and big sorrows and experiences to spirituality. Her puritan beliefs are severely tested. How she adapts to the life for which she is least prepared! The narrative demonstrates the Puritan ideology and thinking through the day to day activities of Rowlandson and how she responds and tries to maintain her mental equilibrium in totally strange circumstances! The death of her daughter is a stunning blow to her, yet she maintains her essential human dignity and is able to interpret the incident as the will of God. The impact of shootout left brutal scars on her mind. In all thirteen were killed and 24 were taken as captives. She often used to say that she would prefer rather be killed by the Indians than live as their captive. But in the real-life situation, she preferred to live rather than embrace death. Then the long ordeal of captivity followed The spark of divinity was visible in the Satanic forces, when the Indians gave her the Bible to read and did not prevent her from being associated with the company of her surviving two children. Another incident shows how human beings adapt to the situations under compelling circumstances. Initially she thought she would never be able to eat the Amerindian food. Yet, after about a week, she had to submit to the demands of the empty stomach, she bean to taste the food she bitterly hated like ground-nuts, Lilly- roots, ground-beans and sundry roots, the names of which she was not aware of….and when she returned to Lancaster finally she was sad—there was not one European to be seen or one house left standing. The narrations related to the captivity of Rowlandson are explained in a series of ‘removes’ from the First Remove to the Twentieth Remove. Apparently, it looks like the experiences of any prisoners of war. But the big difference is the Bible she carried with her. They say, that which is not practical, can not be spiritual either. Every spiritual revelation must stand the test of practicability. Rowlandson goes through the experiences, and she derives solace and strength from the life of Jesus and revelations of the Saints. Her later life is also the hard testing period for her, destiny plays its part, she loses her two children and two husbands, and how she must have reconciled to the situations speak about her indomitable courage to live life as for its duty and beauty, in those hard days of Puritan culture when the believers practiced strict religious injunctions.
Harris, Sharon M: Heath Anthology of American Literature Mary White Rowlandson … Texas Christian University.
college.hmco.com/english/lauter/heath/4e/students/author_pages/colonial/rowlandson_ma.html –Retrieved on June 22, 2008
Reuben, Paul P. “Chapter 1: Mary Rowlandson.” PAL: Perspectives in American Literature- A Research and Reference Guide. WWW URL: http://web.csustan.edu/english/reuben/pal/chap1/rowlandson.html ,Retrieved on June 22, 2008