Bridging Cross Culture through Domesticity in Mary Rowlandson’s “Narrative of Captivity”

Mary Rowlandson’s captivity narrative reaffirms many of the sentiments raised by John Winthrop, while at the same time revealing a sympathetic view of the Algonquin natives that captured her. While the narrative appears to ridicule the natives for their cruelty, murder, and above all, paganism, there are moments in which she is impacted by her time spent with them. John Winthrop’s ideology, as proposed by Thomas Pham, centers around enforcing Christian ideals and fiercely condemning those that go against it. He writes that Winthrop was a religious extremist, and that the Puritans were “religion-imbued fanatics” culpable of genocide. While Rowlandson’s narrative is certainly marked by overt religious themes, like John Dryden’s “The Indian Emperor”, there is a kernel of humanization amid her intolerance and disdain for them.

In saying this, there is evidence of cross-cultural and cross-linguistic exchange between herself and the Algonquians which is evident in the domestic sphere of the text. As noted, Rowlandson adopts many Algoquian native words like “squaw”, “sannup”, “papoose”, and “wigwham” (all home-based terms). As a Puritan woman, which would have been condemned to a life of domesticity, such words allowed her to enter in Algonquian society, effectively demonstrating not only a cross-cultural, but cross-linguistic exchange. In addition to this, much of Rowlandson’s narrative strictly focuses on her interactions between “squaws” and life living in a “wigwam” performing duties like making clothing or food, or gathering food and items for her master. At one point, the kindness of the natives in the domestic sphere touches her: they bury her child for her, give her food, and they allow her to meet with her children occasionally Although perhaps not intentional, Rowlandson’s account of these things humanizes the Algonquians; Rowlandson can still perform her duties as a Puritan woman in a culture completely different than her own. This serves to complicate the narrative of intolerance against indigenous people during English colonization of eastern North America, and Rowlandson herself, at the conclusion of the narrative attempts to dispel many of the assumptions and myths surrounding the Algonquian’s writing that they were not heavy drinkers, not all of them were cruel, and that they were a starving group of people trying to care for their own. Indeed, Rowlandson’s narrative, though dripping with racism and piety, shows that her own preconceptions about the Algonquian’s were not always warranted a stark contrast to the pious and villainous John Dryden Thomas Pham describes.


-Sara Nuila-Chae

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