In A Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson, the author depicts a transformation she undergoes during her captivity at the hands of the Indians. While her first inclination in captivity is to end her suffering as quickly as possible by giving up on her life, Rowlandson quickly takes up the role of survivalist, determined to stay alive long enough to be released and returned back to civilization. Along the way, however, Rowlandson compromises on aspects of her life in order to achieve this survival. As a means of surviving the ordeal of a constantly changing environment, Rowlandson adapts her opinions regarding food, the Native Americans, and even the land around her to take on the perspective of a savage, similar to that of her captors, as a means of compensating with her perceived savage environment.
When Rowlandson is first captured, she makes it her objective to survive the ordeal as best as she can, but one of her earliest struggles comes with the subject of food. Rowlandson reflects on the progression of her eating habits and how she went through a fundamental change in her opinion towards the food in order to sustain herself: “But now that was savory to me that one would think was enough to turn the stomach of a brute creature.” (153) Here Rowlandson succinctly compares her own tastes to that of a brute creature, the sort of description she would normally reserve for one of the Native Americans.
This quote comes on the heels of stories of Rowlandson eating horse liver and different nuts and meats that were completely alien to her tastes. In her desperation, however, Rowlandson begins to consider anything that brings her nourishment and sustenance as “savory,” and in her starving and desperate state she separates herself from the presumably civilized reader by labeling them as “one.” From Rowlandson’s perspective, it is not a given that the food she was forced to eat would be unfit to eat, but that opinion would only stem from the perspective of “one” who was living in civilization.
Another example of how we see Rowlandson’s perspective shift to be more savage is the way she perceives her Native American captors, particularly the master to which she belongs. When first captured she witnesses the Indians destroying her village and murdering her family, and so perceives them to be “barbarous creatures.” (141) However, we see a surprising turnaround of sentiments towards them when she later references her master in the Twelfth Remove. “But a sore time of trial, I concluded, I had to go through, my master being gone, who seemed to me the best friend that I had of an Indian…” (155) Rowlandson goes so far as to actually call one of the Indians her friend. The same people who she constantly refers to as base and uncivilized, she claims to have developed a relationship with. She also notably refers to “a sore time of trial,” an illusion to the struggles she has undergone in crafting this relationship, in developing this mindset. Rowlandson points out the process that transformed her opinions at that time.
Rowlandson’s final, and perhaps most clear, transformation comes in the form of her perception of the wilderness and the environment in which she is traveling. At the onset of her captivity, she refers to the “wilderness” as “desolate” and “vast.” She laments the journey and leaving her home and civilization as she describes the “bitterness of [her] spirit that [she] had at this departure.” (142) However, shortly after she departs, her opinion once again changes. Upon hearing that the Indians buried her dead son, she describes her feelings upon visiting his burial spot.
“Then they went and showed me where it was, where I saw the ground was newly digger, and there they told me they had buried it. There I left that child in the wilderness, and must commit it, and myself also in this wilderness-condition, to Him who is above all.” (144) Here Rowlandson explicitly describes the altered state she can tell that she is in, this “wilderness-condition,” and the way that she rationalizes the death of her infant and leaving him buried in the middle of nowhere as a product of her “wilderness-condition.” The very same sentence demonstrates a product of this condition, referring to her very son as “that” child. The impersonal, no-relationship way she refers to her own flesh and blood is how she compensates with her situation, and it’s this condition that makes her react the way she does.
The changes that Rowlandson undergoes during her travels transform her views and opinions to be more in line with those of the Native Americans with whom she is a captive, and she uses this transformation of views as a coping mechanism throughout her journey. Rowlandson, whether knowingly or not, identifies that the people who are so adept at handling the harsh conditions of constant travel and living in an uncivilized land are the Native Americans themselves, and so her views change to be more like theirs.
She begins to accept the foods they eat as tasteful, the Natives themselves as people instead of simply savages, and the harsh realities of the environment and the detachment of nature’s cruelty regarding the death of her son with a detached manner. It is interesting to note that her religious side only gets stronger throughout her captivity, and she never loses her faith. This results in an interesting dichotomy between her gradual adaptation to a survivalist lifestyle and her strongly rooted faith, only further showing how remarkable her continued faith was.
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