mary rowlandson the captivity narrative n.
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Mary Rowlandson & The Captivity narrative

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Mary Rowlandson & The Captivity narrative. Born circa 1637 in England.  Her parents John and Joan White were among the first settlers of Salem in 1638. She was living in Lancaster by age 17. She married Joseph Rowlandson, a minister, in 1656 They had 4 children:

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mary rowlandson

Born circa 1637 in England. 

  • Her parents John and Joan White were among the first settlers of Salem in 1638.
  • She was living in Lancaster by age 17.
  • She married Joseph Rowlandson, a minister, in 1656
  • They had 4 children:
    • Mary, who lived for three years
    • Joseph, b. 1661
    • Mary, b. 1665
    • Sarah, b. 1669
      • (At the time of their capture, the children were 14, 10, and 6)
Mary Rowlandson
mary rowlandson1

In 1675 Joseph Rowlandson went to Boston to beg for troops from the Massachusetts General Assembly, during which period Mary Rowlandson was captured.

Mary Rowlandson
mary rowlandson2

While a prisoner, Mary Rowlandson travelled some 150 miles,  from Lancaster to Menamaset then north to Northfield and across the Connecticut river to meet with King Philip/Metacomet himself, sachem of the Wampanoags. 

Next she traveled up into southwestern New Hampshire, south to Menamaset, and north to Mount Wachusett.

Mary Rowlandson
mary rowlandson3

Three months after her capture, Mary Rowlandson was ransomed for £20.

She was returned at Princeton, Massachusetts, on May 2, 1676.

Her two surviving children were released soon after.

Their home had been destroyed in the attack

Mary Rowlandson
mary rowlandson4

After her redemption, the couple lived in Boston and then moved 1677 to Wethersfield, Connecticut.

  • Joseph Rowlandson died November 24, 1678, three days after preaching a powerful sermon about his wife's captivity,
    • "A Sermon of the Possibility of God's Forsaking a People that have been near and dear to him."
Mary Rowlandson
mary rowlandson5

Mary Rowlandson remarried Aug. 6, 1679 to Captain Samuel Talcott.

    • He died in 1691
    • She lived until 1711(?).
Mary Rowlandson
mary rowlandson6

Book was written to retell the details of Mary Rowlandson's captivity and rescue in the context of religious faith.

    • No copies of the first edition of Rowlandson’s narrative still exist.
    • 2nd issue begins its title page with a significant emphasis upon God’s providence:
      • The Sovereignty and Goodness of GOD, Together With the Faithfulness of His Promises Displayed; Being a Narrative Of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson
Mary Rowlandson
captivity narrative definition

According to Richard Slotkin,

    • "In [a captivity narrative] a single individual, usually a woman, stands passively under the strokes of evil, awaiting rescue by the grace of God.”
    • “The sufferer represents the whole, chastened body of Puritan society.”
    • “The temporary bondage of the captive to the Indian is dual paradigm-- of the bondage of the soul to the flesh and the temptations arising from original sin, and of the self-exile of the English Israel from England.”
    • “In the Indian's devilish clutches, the captive had to meet and reject the temptation of Indian marriage and/or the Indian's ‘cannibal’Eucharist.”
      • To partake of the Indian's love or of his equivalent of bread and wine was to debase, to “un-English” the soul.
Captivity Narrative: Definition
captivity narrative definition1

According to Richard Slotkin,

    • "The captive's ultimate redemption by the grace of Christ and the efforts of the Puritan magistrates is likened to the regeneration of the soul in conversion.”
      • The ordeal is at once threatful of pain and evil and promising of ultimate salvation.
    • “Through the captive's proxy, the promise of a similar salvation could be offered to the faithful among the reading public, while the captive's torments remained to harrow the hearts of those not yet awakened to their fallen nature"
      • (Regeneration Through Violence: The Mythology of the American Frontier)
Captivity Narrative: Definition

Reasons for captivities:

    • revenge
    • ransom
    • replacement of tribal numbers decimated by war and disease

750 individual captivities between 1677 and 1750 (less than half the total number of captives) Of those…

      • 300 were ransomed
      • 150 converted to Catholicism
      • some assimilated
influenced by

Captivity Narratives show influence of 3 other genres:

    • The spiritual autobiography
      • Redeemed believer traced the steps in his/her conversion from doubt to faith
        • A literary staple in Puritan New England
    • The Puritan sermon
    • The jeremiad
      • Sermon form in which the speaker laments the falling away of the faithful from their earlier commitment to a covenant.
      • Considered America’s earliest literary form
        • Modeled after the prophet Jeremiah’s lamentations over the backsliding of the chosen people of Israel
Influenced by…
rhetorical purposes

Religious expression

  • Justification of westward expansion
  • Nineteenth-century: cultural symbol of American national heritage
  • Popular literature
  • Reinforcement of stereotypes
    • Spanish: Indians as brutish beasts
    • French: Indians as souls needing redemption
    • English in Virginia: innocent exotics
    • Puritans: Satanic threat to their “religious utopia”
Rhetorical Purposes
themes and types

Fears of cannibalism

  • Fears of scalping
  • Hunter-predator myth: captive as cultural mediator between savagery and civilization
  • Judea capta, for Puritans: Israel suffering under Babylonian captivity.
  • Freudian view: captivity becomes adoption
  • Myths
    • Myth of “Love in the Woods” (Pocahontas and John Smith)
    • Myth of “Good Companions in the Wilderness” (Cooper's Natty Bumppo and Chingachgook)
    • Myth of “White Woman with a Tomahawk”
      • Hannah Dustan: (killed 10 Indians and scalped them when she escaped)
Themes and types

Abruptly brought from state of protected innocence into confrontation with evil

Forced existence in alien society

Unable to submit or resist

Yearn for freedom, yet fear perils of escape

Struggle between assimilation and maintaining a separate cultural identity

Condition of captive parallels suffering of all lowly and oppressed

Growth in moral and spiritual strength



Separation: attack and capture

Torment: ordeals of physical and mental suffering

Transformation: accommodation, adoption

Return: escape, release, or redemption

captivity narrative in historical perspective

Can trace the lineage of CN

    • Narrative of AlvarCabez De Vaca
    • Frontier Indian wars
    • Prisoner of war narratives
      • Revolutionary War
      • Civil War
      • WWI & WWII
      • Korean War
      • Vietnam
  • Closely akin to the Slave Narrative
Captivity narrative in historical perspective