Sunday, April 28, 2013

Indian Captive Narratives

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Indian Captive Narratives



A narrative’s perspective relies souly on the narrators point of view. Two stories with similar circumstances and events can have adverse affects on it’s reader. Point of view can single handedly determine the mood and tone the story will take on. Similar and even parallel stories with completely different objectives leave us with an especially great opportunity to take a critical view of its’ characters through compare and contrast methods. This is particularly true in The Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson and Catherine Sedgwick’s Hope Leslie. These accounts retell the tale of English settlers and their experiences as both the captive and captor. Mary Rowlandson however, takes a much more critical view of the Native Americans, and opposed to the much more forgiving Hope Leslie. Mary Rowlandson’s character shares a remarkably similar experience with Magawisca , the Indian girl in Hope Leslie. Both stories take place during the King Phillip wars, and both specifically involve the Pequod Indians. Both girls were dragged from their homes, traumatized by witnessing the slaughter of their loved ones, and forced to survive for a substantial amount of time amongst the enemy. Even through these parallel circumstances, these two remarkable young women retain their own very distinct characteristics. Although their circumstances are alike, their countenance proves to be completely opposite. At first glance, it is almost safe to say that the “heathen” Magawisca was given the moral victory over her enemies more so than the Christian Mary Rowlandson. The remarkable course of events that occurs after their captivity proves to be the defining factor in determining the strength of their characters. Both women arise victoriously, but because of the authors’ objectives, one just seems to do it with a little more compassion and grace.

Mary Rowlandson’s The Narrative of the Captivity and restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson, is her Puritan testimony to the grace and goodness of God who had delivered her from her enemies. She is a young settler woman of great faith ,living with her husband and family on their small farm. After her captivity, her faith seems to be her deciding factor in her will to live. She witnesses the murder of her sister, as well as some of her sister’s children. Her own 6 year old child dies in her arms days after captivity, and has no knowledge of the whereabouts of her other children and husband. All is lost except for a small bible which is kindly bestowed upon her not by the Indian who handed it to her, but as she perceived it, the grace of God. She has the will to survive, but seems to lacks any Christian intuition to be a living example of Gods goodness. Although she remains faithful to God’s word, her anger and hostility towards her demon captors controls her attitude throughout the narrative. God’s word gives her hope, but it dose not give her strength to love her enemies, or even show them kindness. She does not become a living testimony until she is back amongst her own Puritan brethren. At no point of the narrative does she prove to be a representation of all that God stood for. Mary was never able to hold the Indians in any regard other than heathens. Her faith almost blinded her in a sense, from being able to distinguish God’s goodness from the heathens’ genuine kindness. All reference to her captors is held in a negative light. All kindness that was shown to her was God’s work. Even the Christian Indians or “Praying Indians,” as she referred to them as, were not worthy of her acceptance. Her faith was astounding but her attitude never once reflected true Christian values.

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Magawisca and her circumstances however similar to Mary’s they may be, took a completely different approach in her attitude as a captive. Magawisca’s whole tribe was pillaged and burned to the ground. Almost everyone she new and loved was brutally murdered by the English army. The narrative even briefly mentions people flinging their bodies into the flames in attempt to avoid their fate at the hands of an Englishmen. As a result of Magawisca’s father’s status, her and her brother were taken into captivity instead of being slaughtered with the rest. Magawisca is no stranger to the hardships of captivity. She has lost everything she loves, and yet she perseveres above the bondage of hate, and does not blame her captors who are otherwise very kind to her. She even befriends her new master’s son, Everell, and confides in him the traumatic events leading up to her capture. Magawisca even goes so far as to have feelings for her English oppressors, and looses her own limb in attempt to rescue Everell from her fathers wrath. Her misfortune in life does not blind her from seeing the goodness in others, despite their race or involvement in King Phillip’s war. Despite her “heathen” background, she retains more admirable Christian qualities that Mary Rowlandson’s pious character.

Many different factors are responsible for this vast difference in attitudes the characters emanate. Mary Rowlandson is a non-fictional Puritan character who retells her own experiences among the Indians. It is not however a personal narrative, but a shaped narrative with a particular motive to the Puritan divine community to be a living testimony to the Mercy of God. The narrative was never intended to be a recount of her own emotions and actions, but simply to bear witness to how God provided for her and how his sovereignty and Goodness delivered her from her many trials and tribulations. Her anger is towards the Indian is derived from her own personal dealings with them. It is not an imaginative recreation as in Hope Leslie. Mary Rowlandson’s account also bears a great deal of historical reference to the mind set of the racist puritan community at he time of the narrative’s publication. Mary Rowlandson’s character is not as romantics, or even as Christian as Magawisca’s, but it is accurate. Mary Rowlandson was a real person, and these were her real feelings towards native Americans however bias and narrow they may be. Considering the death of her six year old child in her arms, it is reasonable to boast that they are justified.

Catherine Maria Sedgewick, the author of Hope Leslie, and creator of the character “Magawisca,” had never herself been held captive. Some major themes and historical perspectives she held greatly influence the comparison between Magawisca and Mary Rowlandson. Sedgwick’s writings seem to hold a great deal of sympathy for the Indians being destroyed by English settlers. Mary Rowladson’s narrative appears to have overlooked the binary opposition existing between civilization and savagism, while Hope Leslie strongly represents both. However, in direct contrast to Mary Rowlandson’s character, Magawisca, is a romantically nostalgic heroine princess who saves the Englishman in Sedgwick’s attempt to overcome peoples preconceived notion of Indians at the time of publication. It was Sedgwick’s personal strive for liberty and independence from the Puritan magistrate that gives Magawisca’s character her outstandingly unbiased personality. Magawisca was Sedgwick’s attempt to depart from Puritan racism while Mary Rowlandson embraced it. Although the circumstances are extremely similar, it is apparent that the two characters originate on two very different playing fields.

As it turns out, these two similar characters happen to be a reflection of their two completely opposite authors. The characters’ attitudes had to be contrary to one another, because the author’s objectives were. While Sedgwick wished to rebel against the Puritan beliefs, Rowlandson only wished to embrace it. Sedgwick’s goal was to overcome the narrow mindset that many of her peers held towards Indians, while Rowlandson ‘s testimony only reinforces it. Rowlandsons justification lye within her sincere puritan belief that God was the only determining factor in her survival, and the fact that she lived through the traumatic experience herself. That factor alone entitles her to justly harbor any animosity towards her Indian Captors. Sedgwick’s attempt to undo the biased views of her time are also justified. She did so by showing the other side of the English/Indian opposition and maybe even exaggerated the goodness of Magawisca’s character to make its impact successful. This does however cause Mary Rowlandson’s opinions to be harsh and unjust, until it is looked at with a critical eye. Rowlandson’s attitude towards the Indians was not necessary in fulfilling the narratives objective. Therefore, it becomes understandable why her countenance appeared rash and her demeanor did not seem aligned with Christian forgiveness.

Both authors had an objective to fufill through their character, and both authors successfully achieved their objective. When the characters are compared taken out of their context, Magawisca appears to be the moral victor. When the characters are placed in correct context, and the authors’ objective for the narrative is kept in mind, both characters met their goal victoriously.



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