Captivity narratives were commonly popular in the 1700’s by both European and American populations. Captivity narratives in America portrayed either whites enslaved by savages or the African enslaved by the white slave owner. Captivity narratives were written to show the reader of one’s experiences while being in captivity. Two authors who wrote a couple of these narratives are Mary Rowlandson and Olaudah Equiano. Mary Rowlandson’s narrative is entitled, “A Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson.
The title of Olaudah Equiano’s narrative is “The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavas Vassa, the African, Written by Himself. ” Captivity narratives test a person’s faith and his or her ability to survive in a specific given situation. Both authors must learn to survive in a different culture. Both desire their freedom, but fear the dangers of escape. Rowlandson relies on her religious strength to help her through her suffering, while Equiano relies on his moral and eventually religious strength to help him through his suffering.
Examining these two narratives will show similarities and differences in their purpose but will ultimately show the reason for the narrative which was to sway a person’s way of thinking. Both Equiano and Rowlandson were living an ordinary life until they were torn away. Equiano was living a carefree life, enjoying his time growing up in his village along with his family. That day came to an end when he and his sister were captured and sold into slavery.
Equiano states, “One day, when all our people were gone out to their works as usual, and only I and my dear sister were left to mind the house, two men and a women got over our walls, and in a moment seized us both, and without giving us time to cry out, or make resistance, they stopped our mouths, and ran off with us in the nearest wood” (690). Rowlandson’s narrative begins with Native Americans attacking her village as they come upon her house and set fire to it. As Rowlandson attempts to leave her home, she is captured.
Rowlandson states, “The Indians laid hold of us, pulling me one way, and the children another, and said, ‘Come go along with us’: I told them they would kill me: they answered, if I were willing to go along with them, they would not hurt me” (258). The similarity of both narratives is that both were enjoying their lives until they abruptly changed. The difference is that Equiano was a child, not knowing much about the world while Rowlandson was an adult and knew the dangers of being a colonist. Both authors once captive had to adapt to their surroundings.
Equiano experienced many different cultures before being bought in Virginia as a slave. Equiano taught himself how to expand his knowledge after being taught by Miss Guerin and under the tutelage of a schoolmaster the basics of reading and writing. Equiano states, “Nor did I leave my kind patronesses, the Miss Guerins, without uneasiness and regret. They often used to teach me to read, and took great pains to instruct me in the principles of religion and the knowledge of God” (703). Equiano’s thirst for knowledge growing up would help lead him to his freedom.
Similarly, Rowlandson learned the culture of the natives to help her survive hunger and starvation. “There came an Indian to them at that time with a basket of horse liver. I asked him to give me a piece. ‘What,’ says he, ‘can you eat horse liver? ’ I told him, I would try…so that I was fain to take the rest and eat it as it was, with the blood about my mouth, and yet a savory bit it was to me” (266). While both learned their new cultures, Equiano’s purpose was to gain knowledge to eventually free him, and Rowlandson’s purpose was for survival.
Both Equiano and Rowlandson desired their freedom, but also feared the dangers of escape. Equiano was in a civilized area, but the realization of being alone in an attempt to get back home was diminishing. Equiano expresses, “I had before entertained hopes of getting home, and had determined when it should be dark to make the attempt; but I was now convinced it was fruitless, and began to consider that, if possible I could escape all other animals, I could not those of human kind” (692).
Rowlandson was in the wilderness and she had no idea how close she was to the nearest colony. As Rowlandson is speaking with another English captive about escaping, she states, “I wished her not to run away by any means, for we were near thirty miles from any English town” (263). Rowlandson not only feared being caught after escape, but she also feared of being lost in the wilderness with the wild animals. Rowlandson wrote, “Heart-aching thoughts here I had about my poor children, who were scattered up and down among the wild beasts of the forest” (264).
Both authors adapted to surroundings to help them survive their captivity. Both authors have to rely on religious and moral strength to help them endure their captivity. Rowlandson believes in Christianity, and that helped her to survive her captivity. She believes everything happens for a reason and that God was testing her faith. Rowlandson in her reflection of Psalms quotes, “Oh that my people had hearkened to me, and Israel had walked in my ways, I should soon have subdued their enemies, and turned my hand against their adversaries” (265).
On the other hand, Equiano has no knowledge of Christianity in his early childhood and yet it wasn’t till his adulthood that he understood white Christianity. Equiano knew being part of the white Christianity would help him earn his freedom. Equiano had to rely on his moral strength, in the beginning, to be free and his religious strength to withstand his captivity. Equiano wrote, “I regard myself as a particular favorite of Heaven, and acknowledge the mercies of Providence in every occurrence of my life” (688). Both authors justify their captivity with the grace of God and that it was a testament of their faith.
Captivity narratives were popular during the 1700s with many readers. Although Equiano and Rowlandson write their narrative with captivity as the main subject, both endured entirely different situations. Rowlandson thought she was captured by the savages, but she realizes she was never treated unjustly. Equiano, on the other hand, was supposedly captured and sold into slavery by the civilized population, but he was treated inhumanely. Both authors hoped to open the eyes of others to see the injustices of being a captive.