Of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson Essay, Research Paper
“A Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson”
In “A Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson,” Mary Rowlandson, a Puritan mother from Lancaster, Massachusetts, recounts the invasion of her town by Indians in 1676 during “King Philip’s War,” when the Indians attempted to regain their tribal lands. She describes the period of time where she is held under captivity by the Indians, and the dire circumstances under which she lives. During these terrible weeks, Mary Rowlandson deals with the death of her youngest child, the absence of her Christian family and friends, the terrible conditions that she must survive, and her struggle to maintain her faith in God. She also learns how to cope with the Indians amongst whom she lives, which causes her attitude towards them to undergo several changes. At first, she is utterly appalled by their lifestyle and actions, but as time passes she grows dependent upon them, and by the end of her captivity, she almost admires their ability to survive the harshest times with a very minimal amount of possessions and resources. Despite her growing awe of the Indian lifestyle, her attitude towards them always maintains a view that they are the “enemy.”
In the beginning of the narrative, Mary Rowlandson describes the manner in which the Indians invade her home, kill many of her friends, and drag her away from her husband and two children. She watches as the “murderous Wretches [burn] and [destroy]” her home before her eyes. It is the “dolefullest day that [her] eyes have ever [seen].”(123) At this point in time, Mary has no knowledge of the Indian lifestyle, or even of their motive for ravaging the land of the colonists. She sees them merely as merciless heathens who come from Satan. Mary writes that before the incident, she said that if “the Indians should come, [she] should choose rather to be killed by them then [be] taken alive,”(124) but when that choice actually comes to her, she chooses to go with them, despite her unwillingness. At this point, she puts her life into the Indians’ hands. Once they leave the town, Mary and the Indians begin a series of “removes,” or moves to different areas of the New England wilderness. Mary describes the celebration rituals of the Indians, where they dance and chant, and “[make] the place a lively resemblance of hell!”(124) Their unchristian lifestyle is completely foreign to her, and her first instinct is to relate their rituals to satanic rituals. However, she maintains a passive attitude in the hope that they will not hurt her or her wounded and dying daughter. During their “removes,” Mary becomes too weak to walk any longer, and the Indians, “like inhuman creatures, laugh and rejoice to see it.”(125) They do nothing to provide for her comfort during their long journeys through the rough landscape. Her only refuge is to take comfort in her prayer and hope that God will help her through these hard times. After the first several days, Mary develops a dependency upon the Indians, and begins to get used to their means of living.
During their travels in the wilderness, Mary and the Indians must conserve every part of nature that they possibly can in order to provide a sufficient amount of food for the amount of people traveling in their group. Mary finds herself resorting to sources of food which she would never have considered in her normal life. In order to survive, she must consume the “filthy trash” that the Indians eat, and at her hungriest moments even finds it “pleasant and savory to [her] taste.”(130) Although the Indians made sure to feed Mary and keep her alive and functional, they showed no respect to her Christian rituals. When she asks if she can rest on the Sabbath day, they answer her that if she does not work they will “break her face.”(130) Their disapproving attitude towards Christianity makes Mary wonder how God preserves them during their travels. As more time passes, some of the Indians become more sympathetic towards Mary. When her food is stolen from her, one Indian approaches Mary and gives her a piece of Horse-liver, which she finds “savory” in her state of hunger.(132) After making a journey across a river, Mary breaks down and cries to herself remembering her old life of luxury. When the Indians ask her why she is crying, she replies that they will kill her. The Indians assure her that “none will hurt [her],” and they give her “two spoonfuls of meal to comfort [her] and half a pint of Pease.”(132) Mary must rely on the support of the Indians to maintain a somewhat healthy body so that the Indians will spare her life and keep her with them. Mary even tries to please the Indians. When she earns a shilling in exchange for a shirt she makes, she offers the money to her Master, but he lets her keep it to buy food. At another instance, Mary acquires a knife, and she gives it to her master, “glad that [she] had any thing that he would accept of, and be pleased with.”(133) Mary also speaks of the kindness of several Squaws, who give her food and warm shelter when she is need. Sometimes she met the Indians with “favor, and sometimes with nothing but frowns.”(134) Mary has gone from hating the Indians to making efforts to please them and even befriend them. Her Master even tells her that he will let her husband buy her from him when the time comes. Mary and the Indians develop somewhat of a mutual respect for each other, and they coexist in peace once they realize that they can benefit from each other. Mary can sew and knit clothing that is useful to the Indians in the harsh weather, and the Indians can provide her with food in exchange.
As Mary’s time with the Indians draws to a close, she becomes more and more desperate to return to her Christian family and friends. While still gaining most of her comfort from her Bible and religion, Mary also begins to gain comfort through certain kind deeds of the Indians, although she still refers to them as “barbarous creatures.”(137) Mary also becomes more hopeful to return home, because a council meets at Wachuset to discuss redeeming the captives of the Indians. Finally, the Indians agree to release Mary if her husband can provide them with their requested sum of twenty pounds of goods. During this time, Mary meets two Indians named Tom and Peter who help her in her quest to go home. They are Christian Indians, and when Mary sees them she “bursts into tears,” because “her heart was so full that she could not speak to them.”(142) Her happiness at the sight of these two Indians illustrates the fact that she holds a more favorable view of the Indians than she did before her captivity. She no longer harbors bad feelings towards all Indians, because she sees that they can embrace Christianity and the civilized nature of the whites. Before Mary returns to her family and friends, she points out a few things that she observed during her captivity. She observes how the Indians outsmart the English Army, and also how the Indians lived so well without the luxury and technology of the whites. She admires that the “Lord preserves them for his holy ends,” yet many English were destroyed”(146) in their journeys. God “provides for such a vast amount of [her] enemies in the wilderness, where there was nothing to be seen but from hand to mouth.” They make no effort to settle in one place, and establish a civilized society like the whites. Instead, they travel constantly, and must resort to very crude means of food and shelter, yet they survive better than the English, whom Mary thought before were superior. Many English died on their journeys in the wilderness, but during all eleven weeks that Mary stayed with the Indians, not one died from hunger. God somehow provided for them. When Mary leaves for the final time, her departure seems to resemble a departure of friends. The Indians asked her to send them goods, and “others [shook her] hand, offering her a hood and scarf to ride in.”(148) Her attitude towards them evolves from hatred to a sort of bond. Mary praises the “wonderful power of God that [she] has seen, and the experiences [she] has had.”(148) She marvels at the fact that she spent so much time with the savages, and “not one of them ever offered the least abuse or unchastity to [her] in word or action.”(148) Mary seems somewhat grateful for her experience of captivity, because she got to see and be involved in things that she never would have normally. She also shows a sense of gratitude for the manner in which she was treated. In the beginning of the narrative, she was certain that she would be “knocked on the head” like so many of her Christian peers.
Although Mary is overwhelmed with happiness when she goes home to her family and friends, her attitude toward Indians in general changes greatly. At first, living with Indians is the most appalling thought that she could ever have. Over time, she realizes that she must somewhat befriend them in order to survive adequately. In the end, she even appreciates the Indians, and the experiences she has had with them. Her captivity also brings her closer to God, because during every hardship, she turns to her faith to help her through it. Her time with the Indians also give her the affliction that she had always hoped for. Mary lived in prosperity before, and had too many comforts of the world around her. The journeys with the Indians give her a kind of reality check, because she sees that not everyone lives in prosperity as she did. The biggest lesson that she learns is to “look beyond present and smaller troubles, and be quieted under them, as Moses said, Exodus.xiv.13, Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord.”(151)