Comparison of Early American Captivity


In every type of literary genre, there is an archetype of how the stories go.  Whether it was the god or the hero, usually males endured and gained fame for their accomplishments.  In Early American Captivity Narratives, Donna Campbell cites Richard Slotkin as saying, “In [a captivity narrative] a single individual, usually a woman, stands passively under the strokes of evil, awaiting rescue by the grace of God” (Literary Movements).  By analyzing Donna Campbell’s work on the Native American captivity of Mary Rowlandson, it will show that the archetype of a captive woman had four stages that included the initial separation, physical and mental abuse to gain control, acclimation to the control, and a reunion to her community.  By studying these four patterns, one can learn that gender identity defined the captive’s ability to survive by using a male counterpart as the hero to feel a sense of security as well as re-acclimation back into her society.

The separation of the woman in colonial America normally began in the story of an uprising by Native Americans with a surprise attack on a farm or community where women were captured. Campbell writes that the uprisings were in retaliation for three reasons: a ransom to restore a loss of wealth, revenge for Puritan acts, and the loss of population (Literary Movements).  At that moment, the journey of the captive began.  Rowlandson writes, “Now away we must go with those barbarous creatures, with our bodies wounded and bleeding, and our hearts no less than our bodies” (The First Remove).  Her journey of the physical and mental abuse to gain control defines her experiences in that the violence forces her to lose her will to fight her captives.  Throughout the torment, the captive reminds the audience that her faith in God helps her endure.  Rowlandson writes, “Oh, Lord, I am oppressed; undertake for me” (The Thirteenth Remove).  After suffering the abuse, the captive begins to adapt to the tormentor’s environment.  She starts to identify with some of her captives where an act of kindness provides comfort that represents an emotional change.  Finally, her reunion with her community takes place. Her physical captivity did come to an end, but her mental captivity endured which made her story all the more compelling.

Just as the hero’s quest has a moral compass, so does the journey of Mary Rowlandson.  She writes, “I have seen the extreme vanity of this world: One hour I have been in health, and wealthy, wanting nothing. But the next hour in sickness and wounds, and death, having nothing but sorrow and affliction” (The Twentieth Remove).  While Puritans would have read it with God as the hero, it is Mary Rowlandson’s strength and character that defines the captive story. A woman was a weak victim and nothing else to the male-dominated society in which she lived. By injecting her journey into that of the male God hero, it allowed White Puritan society to relate to her captivity both religiously and morally. As the first to document her captivity, she also gave birth to a new genre of literature called Native American captivity stories. But, what audiences today will understand is that Mary Rowlandson was every bit a hero on a quest as any of the men who endured and conquered.

Works Cited

Campbell, Donna M. “Early American Captivity Narratives.” Literary Movements. Dept. of English, Washington State University.  (2015, Sep 7).  Web.  Sat. Jul 2, 2016.

Rowlandson, Mary.   Narrative of the Captivity of Mary Rowlandson. GUTENBERG EBOOK CAPTIVITY AND RESTORATION.  (2009). Retrieved on June 30, 2016, from http://www.gutenberg.org/files/851/851-h/851-h.htm


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