This “letter” is more of a reimagining of a direct response to Mary Rowlandson given what I believe to be Apess’s own perspective when writing his “An Indian’s Looking-Glass for the White Man,” using the same ideals to critique her almost martyr-like narrative.
Dear Mrs. Rowlandson,
After reading your narrative on , my thoughts were strangely empathetic yet harsh, understanding but critical. Your horrible situation, one of which involving Indians killing “women and children,” and later taking you hostage, letting you burn under the “scorching rays” of a blistering sun, regarding you “under the lash with hunger and fatigue.” I find myself horrified, reminded of actions done unto themselves: has degradation “not been heaped long enough upon the Indians?”
In this emotional, driven narrative, does it not escape you the situation that you not only have become complicit to, but have experienced firsthand? “And if so, can there not be a compromise; is it right to hold and promote prejudices? If not, why not put them all away? I mean here amongst those who are civilized. It may be that many are ignorant of the situation of many of my brethren…”
Through your recounting, I am reminded, thus, of the many Indians before, their own trials and tribulations seen as an oversight by you, who, like the white men around you, “care not whether the Indians live or die; they are much imposed upon by their neighbors who have no principle.” As you had recounted, you took notice of the “strange providence of God in preserving the heathen,” noting the “many hundreds, old and young, some sick, and some lame; many had papooses at their backs,” but failing to see this forced degradation – your own home a candle to the towns and millions forced to “set their wigwams on fire” to escape the English army hunting them down.
This shows signs of your own ignorant perspective, one of which involving the superiority of the white man, and the rights and privileges inherent to those who are white.
“I know that many [whites] say that they are willing, perhaps the majority of the people, that we should enjoy our rights and privileges as they do…I would ask you if you would like to be disenfranchised from all your rights, merely because your skin is white, and for no other crime? I’ll venture to say, these very characters who hold the skin to be such a barrier in the way, would be the first to cry out, injustice! awful injustice!”
It appears as though you, once disenfranchised yourself, choose to be blind to the plight of your so-called “captors,” ones you see, but do not truly see, as ones who “[mourn] (with their black faces) for their own losses, yet triumphed and rejoiced in their inhumane, and many times devilish cruelty to the English.” This only shows the inherent prejudice behind your mask of understanding, one marred with ignorance. Do you look upon these actions of these so-called devils without knowing the crimes of the English terrorizing them?
I see us both as having differing beliefs in God, one to me: “the maker and preserver both of the white man and the Indian, whose abilities are the same,” and all of us judged under God, who judges righteousness over the “outward appearance.” On a foundational basis, you have no belief that these Indians around you, albeit captors, would murder you sooner than keep you safe. This preconceived notion, you yourself alone in the world, “no Christian soul near,” and somehow surviving the danger of these “hellish heathens,” marks a deep belief, one that judgement should be passed upon those in a manner as concrete as the very depth of their skin. In seeing more of your perspective, your closing ideals, I understand and sympathize, yet remain critically opposed to your own, perhaps repressed, ideals on white superiority.
- William Apess