Some are born literary genius, some achieve literary genius, and some have literary success thrust upon them. As for John Demos in his book, ‘The Unredeemed Captive’ seems to be the blend of the last two categories. Through this book, Demos takes you to the 18th Century, to explain the tension-ridden and violence-prone confrontation between three communities (segments of a society).They are the puritan settlers of New England, the Roman-Catholic French of New France (currently parts of Canada) and the Native Americans.
It was a peculiar type of confrontation fought for several types’ self-interests. The conflicts, where religion, culture, race and territorial interests are involved. The story takes savage turns and the reading seriously affects the emotions of the readers! The contents of writing are a mixture of fact and fiction. The book has great historical significance. The mentioned communities then did not believe in peaceful negotiations to settle the ‘border disputes.’ They fought for territorial gains and the borders continued to shift and relocate.
The mini-Hitlers were out to establish their moral and racial superiority. The animal tendencies in them surfaced forth and they did not hesitate to capture (kidnap) young girls belonging to the enemy camp, as war trophies, eventually for their sexual gratification.
John Demos is a Yale History Professor. His primary intentions and efforts in this book are to provide an objective analysis of the encounters between the mentioned ‘groups’. He has drawn upon the experiences of one family to achieve the objective in view. It is the John Williams family.
Williams is a puritan minister. The family was captured in 1704 in their Massachusetts home by a group of Frenchmen and Native Americans.
They were marched off to Canada. Of the seven members of the family his wife died en-route, Williams and four children were released later, his daughter Eunice became a convert (forced conversion?) to Catholicism to marry a Native American. Desperate attempts were made by the family for the return of Eunice to Massachusetts, but she came for short visits only to return back, till her death at the age of 95.
The stunning and heart-rending part of the story is that of Eunice. Remember, she was only 7 when she was captured—what values did her captors defend by torturing the mind of an innocent girl child? Religious principles? Cultural traditions? Racial superiority? Human values? Such persons deserve to be the offspring of the Satan. She was converted to Catholicism and married off at the age of 16, for which the perpetrators of such a crime can face severe punishment in the present times. Probably that was the age when male/female married as per the social customs prevailing then. Well, she spent the rest of her life, but what might be the thought-currents circling and torturing her mind within?
Her 88 years of silent suffering is difficult for the printed pages to capture, the most sensitive and imaginative writer will not be able to probe the inner layers of her mind. If someone is able to do proper research on this mind, it can as well reveal the history of the century to which she belonged in the correct perspective. Her life is a great example of the bitter fruits of cross-cultural bloody encounters. It is the saga of the perpetrators of the torture and those who were tortured. That God and destiny were often quoted to justify the cruel happenings shows the macabre and sadistic mind-set of the groups involved in those conflicts. It was an open exhibition of animal tendencies, by the two-legged devils
The Unredeemed Captive is a systematically researched history by John Demos. To sieve through the 300 year old data (the later 1600s) and make out a factual, historically relevant story is a skilled job. Demos has done justice to his job as the Professor of History. He knows the essentials of the history, the requirements of a research student of history. The research pages do make a slow reading, and that is no fault of the author. The narratives sections are quite fascinating. Basically, this book is written by a history man for the history people
In the present times also, people live dangerously in the border areas of a country, especially when the neighbors are unfriendly. This is the situation when civilization has made advancement and there are international laws for protection. Guess, what would have been the conditions 300 years ago, when might was right and jungle laws prevailed? John Demos describes well, with authority and proof, the dangers of living on the American frontiers in the early days of settling America, when the borders shifted constantly.
A tough subject has been chosen for the book and the area covered is vast. One can not expect the book to make a good reading from page 1 to page 336. The first five chapters are very exciting; the flying start is the highlight of the book. The story and the incidents related to the family of John Williams are interesting and touching. The rest of the book is about facts, customs and traditions. One needs to make efforts to sustain the interest as for this portion of the book. But overall, the book is no drag.
Finally, the important points of the book: The clash of cultures of the diverse communities is well depicted. Through the personal tragedy of a family, the political story of an era has been told. The doomed role of the religion is described well. Eunice’s rejection of her own family is a mysterious psychological drama. But Demos shows the balanced approach in writing this part of the story, and does not blame exclusively any party involved in the conflicts.
Demos, John, Book: The Unredeemed Captive.Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (March 28, 1995) ISBN-10: 0679759611 ISBN-13: 978-0679759614