Mary Rowlandson Resources
  A Captivity Narrative

The introduction lists four reasons or motivations that the editors suggest for Mary Rowlandson’s decision to publish an account of her captivity. What are these reasons or motivations? According to the introduction, why was Rowlandson’s work accepted for publication even though it was unsual for women to be permitted pbulications in Puritan New England?

Identify the following characters: Mary Rowlandson, King Philip, Wampanoeg tribesmen, Robert Pepper, Weetamo, John Gilberd of Springfield, Wattimore

wearisome: (adj.) fatiguing; exhausting
tedious: (adj.) tiring; dreary
lamentable: (adj.) regrettable; distressing
entreated: (v.) asked sincerely; prayed to
plunder: (n.) goods seized, especially during wartime
melancholy: (adj.) sad; sorrowful
decrepit: (adj.) run down; worn out by age or use
savory: (adj.) appetizing; agreeable
affliction: (n.) pain; hardship
bewitching: (adj.) enticing; irresistible

Vocabulary Mary Rowlandson’s Narrative

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Study Questions

1. How does the Narrative demonstrate Puritan theology and thinking at work?

2. In what ways does Rowlandson use her experience to reaffirm Puritan beliefs? How does she view herself and her fellow Christians? How does she see the Indians? What do her dehumanizing descriptions of the Indians accomplish?

3. Are there any instances where she seems to waver in her faith?

4. Why does Rowlandson distrust the “praying Indians”?

5. How does she use the Bible and varied scriptural allusions in her analysis of her captivity and restoration?

6. Does her world view change at all during her eleven weeks of captivity? Why or why not?

7. How does the Narrative combine/demonstrate/refute what Bradford in Of Plymouth Plantation and John Winthrop in A Modell of Christian Charity had to say about the Puritan’s mission in the New World?

8. The subject of food receives a great deal of attention in Rowlandson’s Narrative. How does Rowlandson’s attitude toward food change over the course of her captivity? Why is she so concerned with recording the specifics of what she ate, how she acquired it, and how she prepared it? What kinds of conflicts arise over food? What do her descriptions of eating tell us about Native American culture and about Rowlandson’s ability to acculturate?

9. How does Rowlandson use typology within her Narrative? What kinds of biblical images does she rely on to make sense of her captivity? How does her use of typology compare with that of other writers in this unit (Winthrop or Taylor, for example)?

10. In his preface to the first edition of Rowlandson’s Narrative, published in 1682, Increase Mather describes her story as “a dispensation of publick note and of Universal concernment” and urges all Puritans to “view” and “ponder” the lessons it holds for them. Does Rowlandson always seem to understand her captivity in Mather’s terms? How do the moments when Rowlandson narrates her experience as personal and individual complicate this imperative to function as a “public,” representative lesson for the entire community?

11. Many scholars view the captivity narrative as the first American genre and trace its influence in the development of other forms of American autobiographical and fictional writings. Why do you think the captivity narrative became so popular and influential? What might make it seem particularly “American”? Can you think of any nineteenth- or twentieth-century novels or films that draw on the conventions of the captivity narrative?

Be ready to discuss the following passages

A. On the tenth of February 1676, Came the Indians with great numbers upon Lancaster. Their first coming was about sunrising; hearing the noise of some guns, we looked out; several houses were burning, and the smoke ascending to heaven. There were five persons taken in one house; the father and the mother and a suckling child they knocked on the head; the other two they took and carried away alive.

B. We had six stout dogs belonging to our garrison, but none of them would stir, though another time, if any Indian had come to the door, they were ready to fly upon him and tear him down. The Lord hereby would make us the more to acknowledge His hand, and to see that our help is always in Him.

C. I had often before this said that, if the Indians should come, I should choose rather to be killed by them than taken alive; but when it came to the trial, my mind changed; their glittering weapons so daunted by spirit that I chose rather to go along with those (as I may say) ravenous beasts, than that moment to end my days. . . .

D. The next day was the Sabbath. I then remembered how careless I had been of God’s holy time, how many Sabbaths I had lost and mis-spent, and how evilly I had walked in God’s sight, which lay so close unto my spirit that it was easy for me to see how righteous it was with God to cut off the thread of my life and cast me out of His present for ever. Yet the Lord still shewed mercy to me, and upheld me; and as he wounded me with one hand, so he healed me with the other.

E. This was the comfort I had from them; “miserable comforters are ye all,” as he said. Thus nine days I sat upon my knees, with my babe in my lap, till my flesh was raw again; my child being even ready to depart this sorrowful world, they bade me carry it out to another wigwam (I suppose because they would not be troubled with such spectacles), whither I went with a very heavy heart, and down I sat with the picture of death in my lap. About two hours in the night, my sweet babe like a lamb departed from this life, on February 18, 1676, it being about six years and five months old. It was nine days from the first wounding in this miserable condition, without any refreshing of one nature or other except a little cold water.

F. Oh the hideous insulting and triumphing that there was over some Englishmen’s scalps that they had take (as their manner is) and brought with them, I cannot but take notice of the wonderfull mercy of God to me in those afflictions, in sending me a Bible. . . .

G. And here I cannot but take notice of the strange providence of God in preserving the heathen: They were many hundreds, old and young, some sick and some lame; many had papooses at their backs; the greatest number at this time with us were squaws, and they traveled with all they had, bag and baggage; and yet they got over this river aforesaid; and on Monday the set their wigwams on fire, and away they went. On that very day came the English army after them to this river and saw the smoke of their wigwams, and yet this river put a stop to them. God did not give them courage or activity to go over after us; we were not ready for so from great a mercy as victory and deliverance; if we had been, God would have found out a way for the English to have passed this river, as well as for the Indians with their squaws, and children, and all their luggage.

H. Then I went to see King Philip. He bade me come in and sit down, and asked me whether I would smoke it (a usual compliment nowadays amongst saints and sinners) but this no way suited me. For though I had formerly used tobacco, yet I had left it ever since I was first taken. It seems to be a bait the devil lays to make men lose their precious time. I remember with shame how formerly, when I had taken two or three pipes, I was presently ready for another, such a bewitching thing it is. But I thank God, He has now given me power over it; surely there are many who may be better employed than to lie sucking a stinking tobacco-pipe.

I. I went to see an English youth in this place, one John Gilbert of Springfield. I found him lying without doors, upon the ground. I asked him how he did? He told me he was very sick of a flux, with eating so much blood. They had turned him out of the wigwam, and with him an Indian papoose, almost dead (whose parents had been killed), in a bitter cold day, without fire or clothes. The young man himself had nothing on but his shirt and waistcoat. This sight was enough to melt a heart of flint. There they lay quivering in the cold, the youth round like a dog, the papoose stretched out with his eyes and nose and mouth full of dirt, and yet alive, and groaning. I advised John to go and get to some fire. He told me he could not stand, but I persuaded him still, lest he should lie there and die.

J. They would pick up old bones, and cut them to pieces at the joints, and if they were full of worms and maggots, they would scald them over the fire to make the vermine come out, and then boil them, and drink up the liquor, and then beat the great ends of them in a mortar, and so eat them. They would eat horse’s guts, and ears, and all sorts of wild birds which they could catch; also bear, venison, beaver, tortoise, frogs, squirrels, dogs, skunks, rattlesnakes; yea, the very bark of trees; besides all sorts of creatures, and provision which they plundered from the English. I can but stand in admiration to see the wonderful power of God in providing for such a vast number of our enemies in the wilderness, where there was nothing to be seen, but from hand to mouth.

K. Before I knew what affliction meant, I was ready sometimes to wish for it. When I lived in prosperity, having the comforts of the world about me, my relations by me, my heart cheerful, and taking little care for anything, and yet seeing many, whom I preferred before myself, under many trials and afflictions, in sickness, weakness, poverty, losses, crosses, and cares of the world, I should be sometimes jealous least I should have my portion in this life . . . .

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Slide show of introduction and conclusion

Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 10/08 at 01:02 PM
2009 Michael L. Umphrey