How does Rowlandson's description of her Native American captors evolve--or not--throughout the text?
Rowlandson initially describes Native Americans in demonic, animalistic terms. She later describes acts of kindness on the Native Americans' part without qualification, from comforting her when she weeps at the riverside to giving her food and shelter. Her description evolves from monolithic to nuanced, depicting both individuals who are kind to her, such as King Philip, and who are cruel to her, such as her mistress, Wettimore. She comes to expect both kindness and cruelty. Her descriptions are sometimes affectionate and sometimes almost as prejudiced as when she is first taken captive, especially when she discusses the Native Americans in contrast to the English. Her harsh criticism of Christian Native Americans is present throughout.
To what extent does Mrs. Rowlandson adapt to life among her Native American captors?
Mrs. Rowlandson adapts by eating formerly unpalatable foods, cooking Native American foods for herself and her master and mistress, scavenging for ground-nuts, and trading her sewing skills. She continues to rely on scripture for strength, to beg for her food and shelter to avoid starvation and cold, and to complain and falter under heavy weight, but she adapts considerably well to the society in which she finds herself.
What does Mrs. Rowlandson do to preserve her English identity?
Mrs. Rowlandson preserves her English identity by reading her Bible, which provides a framework for her experience, grounds her in her faith, and allows her to employ her literacy. She exercises her domestic skill of sewing, probably using tools that had been in her apron. She seeks out fellow English captives as company. She views her captors through a prejudiced lens that allows her to separate them from her and assert them as inferior in her mind.
What purpose does the unknown minister's (likely Increase Mather's) preface serve?
The author deflects focus away from Mrs. Rowlandson, the second female author published in North America, and onto God. The preface presents the book as a model of divine providence for the pious to study, published despite its author's modesty in the glory of God for the benefit of the public. The preface increases the legitimacy of Rowlandson's narrative, protects Rowlandson from personal criticism, and instructs the reader to use the narrative as a spiritual tool.
To what extent does Rowlandson's narrative meet the expectations of the preface?
While Rowlandson frequently cites scripture and references the power of divine providence, her narrative sometimes exceeds the requirements of a spiritual narrative, placing the focus more on Rowlandson than God. She uses vivid detail to describe places, events, rituals, and individual people, all of which is unnecessary to communicate her spiritual message but adds to the narrative's entertainment and historical value. Descriptions of the antagonism between Wettimore and Rowlandson, for example, seem to concern Rowlandson more than divine providence. Her use of her platform to criticize Christian Native Americans is also gratuitous in her demonstration of divine providence.
How does Mrs. Rowlandson's status in English society shape her experience in captivity?
Mrs. Rowlandson's high-ranking status contributes to her relatively kind treatment as a captive. For example, she is befriended by King Philip, who tells her she will soon be a mistress again. Her status as a high-ranking English woman also contributes to her sense of superiority and her discomfort as Wettimore's servant. At one point, she describes Wettimore's behavior as "insolency," which a master would normally use to describe a servant, not the other way around. As such, Rowlandson's high status probably contributes to some of the tension between her and Wettimore.
How do the Native Americans' successes function within Rowlandson's framework of divine providence?
Mrs. Rowlandson is initially confused by the Native Americans' success when they cross the Bacquaug River and the English cannot. She decides, however, that the Native Americans succeed by God's hand because the English are not ready for victory. Before God will bring the English victory, they must be afflicted to the point where God remains their only hope. Once they have found full dependance on God, then God can bring the English victory. At the same time as the Native Americans are a punishment inflicted by God, they are also agents worthy of punishment, as Rowlandson cites God's goodness when certain Native Americans are later hanged by the English.
In what ways does strict adherence to the framework of divine providence make narration difficult? How does Rowlandson manage this?
In the framework of divine providence, all human events are God's doing. As such, humans' individual agency and motives, the typical backbone of a narrative, are superfluous. Rowlandson sometimes handles this by thanking God for a Native American's kindness, for her own strength, or for finding a helpful passage of scripture. At many other times, Mrs. Rowlanson lapses into attributing actions to individuals, including herself, or to attributing circumstances, such as the weather, to no one.
Does Mrs. Rowlandson lose faith in God's goodness at any point during her captivity?
At one point, Mrs. Rowlandson begins to lose hope of rescue, but she does not seem to lose hope of, at least, eventual redemption after death. Also, her spirits fall momentarily due to starvation but are soon revived by food. However, overall her narrative is a testament of her faith. When she cannot find comfort in scripture, she deduces that God withholds such comfort at the moment for reasons only he knows. When something good happens, she thanks God. When something bad happens, she thanks God for her personal strength or deduces that her affliction is for her ultimate benefit. Whether or not she actually feels so faithful throughout her captivity is unknown, as her narrative is a reconstruction of her narrative for public consumption.
In what ways does Rowlandson's narrative show a consciousness of her colonial audience in ways a diary would not?
As a spiritual instructional tool, Rowlandson's narrative includes a large number of Biblical allusions and references to divine providence. As a document that relates to Rowlandson's personal reputation, the narrative includes rationalization of her high ransom price, rationalization of her publishing a narrative at all, and assurance that no Native American took sexual advantage of her. As an ideological platform, her narrative includes strong opinions on why the English fared as they did in King Philip's War and on the treachery of Christian Native Americans.
The Blurred Line Between Civilization and Savagery
Even though Rowlandson’s forced journey from civilization into the wilderness culminates in a triumphant return to civilization, her once-clear conception of what is and is not “civilized” undergoes a radical and permanent shift. Initially, Rowlandson views civilization as that which is not savage or not wilderness, and at times she implies that the Indians’ savagery is actually connected to the natural world around them. The Indians eat coarse food such as horse meat and bear, they live in wigwams, and they spend their days traveling through forests and swamps. As a result, she speculates, they are violent savages. Later, however, similarities between the Indians and the settlers become more apparent. Wettimore is as vain as a rich white woman, “praying Indians” claim to have converted to Christianity, and Indians sometimes wear the colonists’ clothing. Rowlandson also recognizes her own capacity for uncivilized behavior. She finds herself eating and enjoying the Indians’ food, and at times she behaves with a callousness comparable to that of her captors. No longer are civilization and savagery so distinct. Rowlandson’s initial vision of the world as a place defined by opposites (good and evil, civilization and savagery, Puritans and Indians) eventually gives way to a worldview that contains more ambiguity.
Life Is Uncertain
The attack on Lancaster and Rowlandson’s subsequent captivity teach Rowlandson that life is short and nothing is certain. All of the seeming stability of life, including material possessions, can disappear without warning, even during a single day. Rowlandson’s descriptions of her time with the Indians reinforce this lesson: nothing, during her captivity, is consistent. One day, her captors treat her well, while the next day they give her no food or reprimand her without reason. One day, they tell her she’ll soon be sold to her husband; the next day, she is forced to travel farther into the wilderness. In her captive state, Rowlandson can take nothing for granted. She does not even know for sure if she’ll survive the experience.
The Centrality of God’s Will
As a Puritan, Rowlandson believes that God’s grace and providence shape the events of the world. She and other Puritans also believe that God arranges things for a purpose. Throughout her narrative, Rowlandson argues that humans have no choice but to accept God’s will and attempt to make sense of it. Rowlandson’s attempt to understand involves drawing parallels between her own situation and biblical verses. She compares herself to Job, to the Israelites, and to Daniel in the lion’s den, among others. Like these biblical figures, she is at the mercy of God’s will and grace. Everything in her narrative, she believes, happens for a reason, and the reason British troops do not defeat the Indians sooner is that the Puritans have not yet learned their lesson. They are not humble and pious enough for the reward of victory.
The Fear of the New World
In her narrative, Rowlandson explores the fearful hesitation white settlers feel in the face of new environments and experiences. Rowlandson, like other Puritans, is unsure how far the colonists should forge into the wilds. Lancaster is a frontier settlement, and the attack serves as a sign that perhaps the settlers are pushing too far west, too far from their established towns. However, Rowlandson goes still farther inland when she is taken captive, and her experience brings her even further from what she knows. She and other captives, such as Robert Pepper, are able to amass practical knowledge about the natural world during their time with the Indians. Rowlandson learns to gather food for herself and to tolerate meats that would formerly have repulsed her. Though this practical knowledge is positive, it also brings anxiety and guilt because Rowlandson fears leaving “civilization” behind.
More main ideas from The Sovereignty and Goodness of God