Why Writing Works

Disciplinary Approaches to Composing Texts

A Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson:

Ethan Voss

October 4th, 2017

American Literature: Beginning through Realism and Naturalism

Dr. Eric Doise

The Sovereignty of God's Will

A Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson is a short history regarding Mary Rowlandson’s personal experience in captivity among the Wampanoag Indian tribe. Mary Rowlandson, a Puritan mother from present day Lancaster, Massachusetts, recounts the invasion of her home by Indians during King Phillip’s War. During the invasion on February 20th, 1676, Rowlandson was taken captive for eleven weeks and five days. During these terrible weeks, Rowlandson describes the length of her captivity and the dire circumstances under which she is subjected. Despite her hardships and suffering, Rowlandson repeatedly acknowledges God's grace. By accentuating Puritan beliefs and stressing Rowlandson's faith in God, Rowlandson affirms her faith in divine providence and in God’s goodness, but also establishes the uncertainty of her own once-clear conception of the definitive distinction between civilization and savagery.

In the beginning of the narrative, Mary Rowlandson describes the manner in which the Indians invade her home causing destruction and mass casualties. The Indians drag her away while she watches in horror as the murderous wretches [burn] and [destroy] her home right before her eyes (Rowlandson 269). Once they leave the town, Rowlandson and the Indians begin a series of removes, or moves to different areas of the New England wilderness. It is clear throughout the text Rowlandson’s and other Puritan’s beliefs of the thought-to-be immense savagery of the Indians. Towards the end of the introduction, Rowlandson states, I had often before this said that if the Indians should come, I should choose rather to be killed by them than [be] taken alive . . . (Rowlandson 271). By explicably addressing the idea of barbarity with these ravenous beasts, it is clear Rowlandson and other Puritans have a complete lack of knowledge about the Indians and their lifestyle, and even their reason for destroying the homes and lands of the colonists. Rowlandson sees the Indians as merciless heathens who come from Satan (Rowlandson 270). Rowlandson describes within the text the celebration rituals of the heathens, where they dance and chant, and [make] the place a lively resemblance of hell! (Rowlandson 271). Their unchristian lifestyle is completely foreign to her, and her first instinct is to relate their practices to satanic rituals. She maintains a passive attitude, however, in hopes that they will not hurt her or her wounded and dying daughter. Rowlandson eventually becomes too weak to walk any longer, and the Indians, like inhuman creatures, laugh and rejoice to see it (Rowlandson 272). The Indians do nothing to provide Rowlandson comfort during their long journey through the rough landscape of the New England wilderness. Her only refuge is to take comfort in her Bible and pray that God will deliver her through these troublesome times.

Throughout Rowlandson’s narrative, the function of religion plays a significant role. According to Kathryn Zabelle Derounian, Paradoxically, only by undergoing the hellish wilderness journey does Rowlandson deepen her religious sensibility (Derounian 85). Before her captivity, Rowlandson acknowledges, she had been lax about her spiritual development. In the third remove, for example, she admits, I then remembered how careless I had been of God’s holy time, how many Sabbaths I had lost and misspent and how evilly I had walked in God’s sight, which lay so close unto my spirit that it was easy for me to see how righteous it was with God to cut the thread of my life and cast me out of His presence forever (Rowlandson 272-73). In contrast, from the moment she is captured, Rowlandson relies on her faith in the providence of God to sustain her. During the terrible weeks of her captivity, Rowlandson continually depends on a Bible acquired from an Indian’s plunder for spiritual survival to support her actions and beliefs. More specifically, the Puritan ideology of the narrator reveals the strict differences between the religions and cultures in the text. After being taken into captivity by the American Indians, or pagans as Rowlandson describes, she conveys these strong Puritan beliefs by criticizing and demeaning the Indian's religion and, according to Rowlandson, their complete lack of values, morals and religious conviction (Rowlandson 272). This basis for the Puritan belief is an outstanding emphasis on the righteousness and sovereignty of the Almighty God. According to Deborah J. Dietrich, The Puritans regarded themselves as God chosen, and they interpreted their own experiences in epical terms. In light of this, Rowlandson begins to see a divine order in the midst of the surrounding chaos, and she is able to view the Indians as God’s agents for affliction (Dietrich 432). Puritan ideals stress the belief of direct intervention by God, and, more precisely, the belief of Puritan supremacy in the eyes of God. Within the text, Rowlandson explicably states, we must rely on God Himself, our whole dependence must be upon him (Rowlandson 300). Rowlandson unequivocally believes in the covenant between the Puritans and God, and, throughout the remove, further accentuates this belief of Puritan superiority suggesting further that God had specifically chosen her.

Rowlandson continues through the text by explaining the lengthiness of her captivity by developing the idea that until . . . [She] saw no help in anything but Himself . . . she would not be delivered from her captivity (Rowlandson 296). Her claim holds that patience, faith, and reliance solely on Him will result in His saving grace. She argues that God afflicted them so that they could recognize their need for Him. This passage reveals her confidence in God's work and highlights His forgiveness apparent throughout the text. As the text states, Rowlandson's Bible remained with her and brought her the greatest strength. According to Rowlandson, once we have subjected to Him, . . . then He takes the quarrel into His own hand . . . and delivers us from the ordeal as the sovereign leader (Rowlandson 296). By holding onto such diligent faith and not surrendering, Rowlandson believes, she was eventually rescued by God's grace. Rowlandson concludes that God had orchestrated the events of her captivity, and, as an omnipotent being controlling all humanity, acted with special purpose. God manipulated the relationship between the Indians and the Puritan colonists, favoring the Indians when the colonists had fallen to sinful ways, then favoring the colonists when they began to recognize their dependence on Him. God was neither punishing nor rewarding the Indians, who were merely agents whom God controlled as a manifestation of his wrath on the New England Puritans. Accordingly, in her last paragraph, Rowlandson explicitly connects her captive experience with the idea of affliction. Rowlandson believes that the punishment that God had inflicted on the colonists via the Indians was a manifestation of his love: For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every Son whom he receiveth (Rowlandson 300). While she positions herself as thankful for her relationship with God throughout her captivity, Rowlandson argues that she and other Puritans should view their past pain as a blessing.

As Rowlandson surveys her home after the attack by the Indians, she credits the destruction not to the Indians, but to God by quoting Psalm 46:8, Come, behold the works of the Lord, what desolations He has made in the earth (Rowlandson 270). When pondering the escape of the Indians, weighed down with the burden of their wounded captives from the English army, Rowlandson concludes that God strengthened [the Indians] to be a scourge to His people (Rowlandson 295). She reinforces her conviction that God punished her people through the Indians, believing our perverse and evil carriages in the sight of the Lord have so offended Him that, instead of turning his hand against [the Indians], the Lord feeds and nourishes them (Rowlandson 296). Rowlandson's Puritan-centered perception of her captivity reveals that she perceives the Indians as mere instruments used by God to punish his people for breaking their special covenant as his chosen people. Rowlandson trusts God brought great misfortunes onto the lives of the Puritans to stress His unparalleled sovereignty. According to Rowlandson, when the Indians were successful, this success came not from the merit of the Indians but from the sins of the colonists. Rowlandson believes her eventual redemption and reunification with her surviving children and husband affirms her belief of the providence and sovereignty of God.

Rowlandson’s forced journey from civilization into the wilderness culminates in a triumphant return to civilization with her religious views intact, if not stronger; however, Rowlandson’s once-clear conception of what is and is not civilized undergoes a radical and permanent shift. Rowlandson views civilization as that which is not savage or not wilderness, and at times, she implies that the Indians’ savagery is actually connected to the natural world around them. For example, Rowlandson writes that the savage Indians eat coarse food such as horse and bear meat, live in wigwams, and spend their days traveling through treacherous forests and swamps (Rowlandson 276-278). As a result, Rowlandson and other Puritans view the Native Americans as a primitive culture because they do not reflect the Puritan lifestyle.

Later, however, similarities between the Indians and the settlers become more apparent when Rowlandson begins to recognize her own capacity for uncivilized behavior. Rowlandson finds herself eating and enjoying the Indians’ food, and at times she behaves with a callousness comparable to that of her captors. At times, Rowlandson’s behavior is an expression of her physical needs, but at other times, it is only an expression of her hypocrisy. At first, she views civilization as that which is far from the wilderness, in which many believed the Natives dwelled in. However, she realizes that the savage Native American way of life connects to the English, and in being so, challenges Indian stereotypes believed by the Puritans. For example, according to Deborah J. Dietrich, Her examination of the Indians against the colonial stereotype finds them innocent of the charges of sexual abuse of their captive women, and she observes only one instance of drunkenness in all the time she is with them (Dietrich 433).

Similarities between the Indians and the settlers become more apparent, for example, as Rowlandson witnesses Praying Indians who claim to have converted to Christianity. Furthermore, Rowlandson also recognizes her own capacity for uncivilized behavior, as she too dines on half raw horse meat and bear (Rowlandson 290-291). According to Jesper Rosenmeier, [The farther Rowlandson is dragged through the wilderness], the greater her subconscious identification grows with her Indian captors. The harder she fights to secure food, milder treatment, more advantageous shelter, and information from the Indians, the more she enters into the Indians’ economy, forcing her to deal with them not as biblical projections of the devil but as trading partners, as individuals who decide whether she lives or dies (Rosenmeier 258). Also, by the final remove, even when the Indians dance together, Rowlandson no longer views them as one mass of dancing black creatures in the night as she had in the second remove (Rowlandson 272). While pre-captivity Rowlandson could only view the Indians through the Puritan paradigm, she now occupies a position that allows her to explore the difference between the actual Indian and the Puritan stereotype. No longer are civilization and savagery so distinct. Rowlandson’s initial vision of the world as a place defined by opposites eventually gives way to a worldview that contains more ambiguity. Unfortunately, though, because of Rowlandson’s perception of the Indians as mere instruments used by God to punish his people, the impact of Rowlandson’s realization is subconsciously evident, though not apparent in her every day post-captivity Puritan lifestyle.

Within her narrative, Rowlandson describes the extent of her captivity and the dire circumstances under which she is subjected. Upon Rowlandson’s capture by the Wampanoag Indian tribe, Rowlandson is subjected to various difficulties throughout the New England wilderness. Despite her hardships and suffering, Rowlandson repeatedly acknowledges God's grace. By accentuating Puritan beliefs and stressing Rowlandson's faith in God, Rowlandson affirms her faith in divine providence and in God’s goodness, but also demonstrates the uncertainty of her own once-clear conception of the definitive distinction between civilization and savagery. This idea of uncertainty is most notable when Rowlandson undergoes a subconscious shift that allows her to occupy a position to explore the difference between the actual Indian and the Puritan stereotype. Unfortunately, though, because of Rowlandson’s Puritan ideology and the idea of Indian affliction, upon her return to her Puritan lifestyle, though subconsciously apparent, this seemingly impactful shift is non-existent in her post-captivity life. This lack of application in Rowlandson’s narrative portrays the difficulty of altering one’s ideals. In fact, if Rowlandson had returned to her Puritan community a different person, she would have been chastised by society and most likely not welcomed back. The goal in writing her narrative, therefore, was not to show readers how her experiences changed her life, but rather the opposite: to confirm her faith to her readers, prove God’s ultimate sovereignty, and to show other Puritans that their reliance solely on Him is required during trying times. It is for this specific reason that Rowlandson paints such a horrifying picture of the “afflicting” Indians in the narrative and is constantly referring to God throughout the entire text. Rowlandson's own words demonstrate that religious ideologies can be incredibly steadfast, hypocritical, and prejudiced.

Works Cited

Derounian, Kathryn Zabelle. Puritan Orthodoxy and the 'Survivor Syndrome' in Mary Rowlandson's Indian Captivity Narrative. Early American Literature, vol. 22, no. 1, Mar. 1987, pp. 82-93. EBSCOhost,

Dietrich, Deborah J. Mary Rowlandson’s Great Declension. Women’s Studies, vol. 24, no. 5, June 1995, p.427-441. EBSCOhost,

Rosenmeier, Jesper. Text and Context in Mary Rowlandson's Captivity Narrative. American Quarterly, vol. 44, no. 2, June 1992, pp. 255–261. JSTOR, JSTOR,

Rowlandson, Mary. A Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson. Comp. Robert S. Levine. The Norton Anthology of American Literature: Beginnings to 1820, 9th ed., W.W. Norton & Co., 2017, pp. 269–301.