On June 20, 1675, Metacomet, also known as Philip by the early American colonist, led a series of attacks on colonial settlements that lasted for more than a year. These attacks became known as “King Philips War.” It was a desperate attempt by the Natives to retain their land as their culture and resources dwindled before them. Mary Rowlandson, a famous victim of these Indian attacks, recounts her eleven-week captivity in her published book, A Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson. The book describes her experience as a captive of the Wampanoags in great detail, and combines high adventure, heroism, and exemplary piety, which made it a popular piece in the seventeenth century. Throughout the narrative Mary Rowlandson portrays her skills as a writer with the delineation of her character.
In her captivity, Mary Rowland realizes that life is short and nothing is certain. The common theme of uncertainty teaches Rowlandson that she can take nothing for grated. In a single day the seeming stability of life disappears without warning as portrayed in the opening scene when the town of Lancaster is burned down and she is separated from her two elder children. Rowlandson transitions from a wife of a wealthy minister with three children to a captive prisoner with a single wounded daughter in one day. Another instance of uncertainty is between The Twelfth Remove, where she is approved by her master to be sold to her husband, but the next day in The Thirteenth Remove she writes, “instead of going toward the Bay, which was that I desired, I must go with them five or six miles down the river into the mighty thicket of brush; where we abode almost a fortnight (271).”
In addition to the uncertainty nothing in her captivity was consistent either. One day the Indians treat her respectfully, while the next day they give her no food. This inconsistency can be seen between The Eighth Remove and The Ninth Remove. In The Eighth Remove, Rowlandson is asked to make various garments in return for a shilling and different types foods; however, in The Ninth Remove, Rowland was asked to make a shirt, but receives nothing in return (267-268). The inconsistency stems from the uncertain future, which plants fear in Rowlandson’s character. The only light she can see in her dark captivity is the light of her God.
As a Puritan, Rowlandson believes that God’s will shapes the events in her life, and that each event serves a purpose. The common Puritan belief that humans have no choice, but to accept God’s will and make sense of it is portrayed throughout her narrative. This belief in God produces values of fortitude and determination Rowlandson uses to survive the eleven-week captivity. This is can be seen in The Second Remove as she is about to collapse from fatigue and injury, “but the Lord renewed my strength still, and carried me along, that I might see more of his power (260).”
Rowlandson often creates parallels between her own situation and biblical verses about the Israelites because the Puritans thought they were the descendants of the Israelites in the new world. This is portrayed in the closing scene when Rowlandson is reunited with her family and she quotes Moses speaking to the Israelites, ”stand still and see the salvation of the Lord (288).” Moses said this to the Israelites at their arrival to the promise land after forty days of wandering in the desert. Rowlandson compares her captivity to the forty days in the desert, and her reunion with her family to the arrival at the promise land.
In Rowlandson’s captivity, her perspective of the Native Indians evolves from savagery to aspects of civility. The more time she spent with the Natives the more relations she made with them that culminate into respect and appreciation for their culture. Initially Rowlandson considered the Natives “barbarous creatures” who “made the place a lively resemblance of hell” after the burning of Lancaster (259). As a result she speculates the Natives as violent savages. She was also disgusted with the various foods they ate such as ground nuts, tree bark, and horse liver; nevertheless, after three weeks of starvation she acquired a taste for the irregular foods.
This is depicted in The Fifth Remove, “but the third week… I could starve and die before I could eat such things, yet they were sweet and savory to my taste (265).” This expresses a minor change of heart Rowlandson has for the Natives as she finds herself eating the same foods and enjoying them. In addition to the acquired taste of the Native foods, more similarities become apparent such as “praying Indians” who claim to have converted to Christianity and some instances where the Natives are wearing colonists’ clothing (279). The once distinct difference in civility and savagery becomes blurred in the similarities Rowland notices between the colonist and the Natives.
Rowlandson explores the fearful hesitation most colonists feel in the face of the new world. The new world is the unknown environments outside the colonies, mainly toward the west. This includes the forest and wooded areas that are associated with the Natives. It is where the Natives live, where they take their captives, and a place of unknown to the colonist, which made it fearful. Rowlandson described it as a place of “deep dungeon” and “high and steep hill (266).” In Rowlandson’s captivity, she is pushed into the forest where her experience brings her further away from civilization. Her and other captives, such as Robert Pepper, gain practical knowledge about the natural world during their time spent with the Indians. Although this knowledge is key to her survival, it brings her anxiety and guilt because she feels as though she is being pushed from civilization.
The delineated characterization of Mary Rowlandson in her published book, A Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson, depicts the way Puritans approached life with religious concepts and beliefs, but the influence of the Native culture is what separates her work as the first captivity narrative. In her captivity she loses her original physiological security through eleven weeks of uncertainty and inconsistency. This forces her to think outside her Puritan ideology into the new world of different environments and experiences. Her new experiences allow her to grow and appreciate the differences of the new world, and in her reflection Rowlandson closes the gap between the Natives and Puritans by identifying the similarities between the two cultures.