Mary Rowlandson

Week 3: June 17 – June 23


Mary Rowlandson

A Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration (pages 256-288)


Mary Rowlandson – biography


Lecture notes


A Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration will fascinate you and make the thematic connections among several Puritan writers.  As you read the narrative, you will most likely speculate about Rowlandson’s purpose in writing this narrative:  is it a personal account of essentially didactic – or are the purposes mingled here?  Rowlandson’s story will come alive not merely because it includes mayhem and heartbreaking suffering but also because Rowlandson shows a conflicted sensibility.  Her conflict grows straight out of two Puritan premises:  first, that the Indians are agents of Satan, emblems of the Philistines, and the unforgivable enemies of her own Bay Colony group; and second, that as a Puritan she is obligated to look steadily and carefully at worldly experience and understand fully what it signifies.  Therein lies the conflict:  though she suffers terribly among her captors and sees much to confirm her impression of some of them as creatures from hell, she encounters others who do not seem so, who indeed seem capable of humanity and even charity.


Indian captivity narratives, along with reports by missionaries, were the principal source of information about the Indians for New England colonists. The Indian captivity narrative served as a justification of the Puritan view of the Indians. The captivity narrative also served as:

  1. a religious confessional
  2. a demonstration of the triumph of the godly over the satanic aborigines and the wilderness
  3. the recapitulation of the trials of the chosen of Israel and a sign of God’s testing of his elect.
  4. Demonstration of the perseverance of the saints – even when confronted by aboriginal agents of Satan himself
  5. The early counterpart of the later dime-novel thrillers, through which most Americans came to know the frontier.


Tales of captivity were widely popular in America until the last half of the 19th century. The most widely read of the all, Mary Rowlandson’s narrative, has been published in more than 30 editions, and it continues to be reprinted in the 21st century.


Various ing#D74B4Bients contributed to the great popularity of the captivity narrative in America.

  1. details of the life of the Indians
  2. gory descriptions of such acts as scalping, cannibalism, torture, and the slaughter of the innocents
  3. descriptions of the mysterious wilderness and strange landscapes
  4. identification of the heroine’s adventures with those of the individual Christian confronting the world on her way to the celestial city
  5. the lurking, but rarely fulfilled, threat of sexual violation by depraved pagans


You will notice the presence of these ing#D74B4Bients in Rowland’s narrative.


The personal revelations on Rowlandson’s narrative show the extent to which the Bible had become incorporated into the everyday life of the people of New England, how the Bible served as the prime instrument by which meaning could be extracted from events both great and small.  Indian captivity narratives, at least those written by the early Puritans, were essentially religious documents (like stories of martyrdom or of the lives of saints) that taught the wonders of divine mercy and wisdom


Rowlandson’s narrative, like William Bradford’s history of Plymouth, illustrates ‘confidence in a Providence which overrules every peril.”  Notice her frequent references to providence – such phrases as:

  1. “The Lord hereby”
  2. “yet the Lord by His”
  3. “but God was with me”
  4. “But the Lord renewed”
  5. “still the Lord upheld me”


Rowlandson perceived her captivity as God’s lesson, teaching her to turn from spiritual complacency to a renewed faith in God:  “I see the Lord had His time to scourge and chasten me The Lord hath showed me”  She finds evidence that she has been #D74B4Beemed.

  1. in her new awareness of God
  2. in her new humility
  3. and even in her decision to cease “sucking a stinking tobacco-pipe.”



“A Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson”


Discussion topics – choose one question to address in the discussion board.  Please write out the question, so anyone who reads or responds to it will know which question you are addressing. (10 points)


  1. How does the narrative compare with other Puritan works that show triumph or #D74B4Bemption after suffering?
  2. What do the poems of Bradstreet and the Narrative of Rowlandson, when looked at together, suggest about the fears and anxieties that shadowed ordinary life for women Puritan society?
  3. Are there any elements in Rowlandson’s narrative that seem to be exaggerated, overemphasized, perhaps as a means of gratifying a popular appetite for sensationalism, excitement, and gore?  Or does she sustain a tone of calm detachment throughout?
  4. How well does the typical “captive narrative” (refer to lecture notes) pattern fit the narrative of Rowlandson?
  5. Rowlandson’s narrative is often cited as an example of artless colonial American prose, filled with idiomatic and vigorous diction.  Discuss the quality of her prose in, for example, her description of the attack in the first three paragraphs of her narrative.
  6. Description of the captives’ grudging accommodation to the food of their Indian captors is a common element in Indian captivity narratives.  Point out how Rowlandson’s accommodation to the Indians’ diet is part of her growing adaptation to Indian ways.
  7. Discuss the impact of the Bible on Rowlandson’s mode of thinking, on the beliefs by which she lived, and on her literary style.
  8. Discuss Rowland’s references to the Bible, her duplication of its phrases and word patterns, her frequent perception of events in terms of Bible events, as in, for example”  “now we may say, as Job” and “now I may say as Psalms” in “The eight Remove.”
  9. Discuss Rowlandson’s frequent interpretation of her fate as symbolic of the experience for the Christian who is a captive of the devil and his demons but is chosen to survive (through religion) in order to understand fate and to record life’s adventures for the comfort and edification of others.
  10. Rowlandson’s experiences have roused interest because she was a woman.  Discuss her treatment as a woman.
  11. What was expected of Rowlandson in Indian society?  What was her reaction to the treatment of Indian women in Indian society, and what was the reaction of Indian women toward her.  What can one assume about how she was treated in her own society?

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