Captivity is Complicated: How Mary Rowlandson’s Captivity Narrative Complicates Intolerance

Mary Rowlandson’s story of her own captivity at the hands of the Algonquian people create some moral complication between the author and her captors. First and foremost, Rowlandson definitely viewed the native people as “savages” and “barbarians”, as can be concluded from the opening of her narrative in which she described the burning of her home and the slaughtering of her family by the Algonquian people. She, along with many of her contemporaries, likely harbored little (if any) sympathy for the natives, viewing them as subhuman “uncivilized” creatures.

Things become somewhat complicated, however, after Rowlandson spends some time with her captors. While in the custody of the Algonquian people, Mary seems to be treated as a member of the tribe: she attempts to communicate with the wives of the small village, claims to have never been physically abused, and, as it is revealed later in the narrative, even gains the favor of “King Philip”. Obviously, these few acts of civility do not erase the settler’s past contentions with the native people. It does, however, prove that even someone such as Mary Rowlandson, who had her family slaughtered and her home pillaged by these supposed “savages”, can see them as at least somewhat civilized and hospitable human beings.

It is unfortunate that it took captivity and forced removal to allow even one settler to see the native Algonquian people in the way Rowlandson did, and even more unfortunate that only a very small percentage of the settlers were able to even contemplate their intolerance of the native people. If nothing else, Rowlandson’s captivity narrative serves to complicate (yet not entirely dispel) the settler’s ever-present intolerance of the native Algonquian tribe.

-Shawn Pintor-Day

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