The three traditional components of rhetoric are purpose, audience, and occasion. When we talk of purpose, we talk of what the essay is trying to accomplish. In this narrative, Rowlandson recounts the stages of her odyssey in twenty different journeys. (Rowlandson 23-650). In this paper, I am going to discuss purpose in Rowlandson’s captivity narrative.
Summary of the narrative
In her narrative, Mary Rowlandson’s explains her experiences under the hands of Native Americans during the king Philipp’s war which occurred in 1676. She and her children were captured by Native Americans. Her youngest daughter, six years old, was assassinated before her. He recounts the mistreatments she went through while under captivity and during her return. Each day, the Native Americans mistreated her. She found hope in a bible which she had been given by an Indian. Through this journey of pain and misery, Mary Rowlandson didn’t lose hope. It reached a day when she was sold to her houseman. This is what made her see life in another perspective. She started having hope. The secret of her journey was perseverance. She would always find a way to overcome every obstacle that came before her.
Purpose of the narrative
Mary Rowlandson’s work can be seen as one of the earliest and most popular narratives of its type. Though more is unknown about her life, before and even after captivity, she re-tells of her trials with the heathens and this gives readers a fairly clear picture of her. The following are aspects represent the purpose of Mary Rowlandson in writing this narrative.
She reflects contemporary attitudes toward the natives
From her narrative, we see that Mary Rowlandson does not like the Indians. They killed her friends and family, burnet her home and took her to captivity. It’s difficult to ascertain how much f her bitterness is based on her experience and how much is based on cultural conditioning. In her characterization of the Indians, Mary Rowlandson says that the attack was brutal. The people who tried to escape were tortured and murdered by the Indians. For example, Mary asserts, “he begged of them his life, promising them money; but they would not hearken to him, but knocked him in the head, and stripped him naked, and split open his bowels.” She explains more on the mistreatment of other people who tried to escape and how the Indians were merciless not even to allow tend to her injured child. In this description, Mary Rowlandson stereotypes the Indians as liars and she compares them to the devil who was a liar even from the beginning. She compares the wicked look of the Indians “heathens’ with the lovely faces of Christians. Some of the words she uses to stereotype Indians are ‘enemy,’ merciless heathens’ etc. (Rowlandson 234).
Another purpose of this narrative is to show atypical captivity. It’s hard to discover that Mary Rowlandson was not treated as much worse as the other captives/prisoners. The others received more brutality than her. Upon speaking with the first Indians, they assure her that she won’t be hurt she just follows them without causing trouble. If we compare this we how she described about the Indians knocking people at the head, torturing and murdering those who resisted; for example, burning of the pregnant woman, we see that she received much less brutality. She was not subjected to what most of the people were subjected to. Though she faces the cruelty of her mistress, she is shown kindness by her master who promises to sell her back to her husband. Also, there are other squaws who give her food, other Indians who pay her with food and also she receives other tradable goods for her sewing. Mary Rowlandson is not tortured, she is not solely beaten and she does not suffer rape. From this, we ask ourselves whether her treatment is what we would expect from savages (Yothers 49)
Expression of Puritanism
Her narrative is an example of many aspects of puritan theology. This may be seen in the following; Mary Rowlandson makes us understand that God’s redemptive power. She says that the saving power from God is as strong and great. This is through how she recalls of Daniel being saved form the lion’s den. He asserts that God is omnipotent and can do what pleases Him. This claim is evidenced in Rowlandson’s radical change in her spiritual life. She thanks God for the trials she ahs gone through and says that the same have made her realize that they are vanities of vanities. He makes us understand that we should rely and depend on God fully.
Through her narrative, she thanks God for every positive thing which happens to her life. In this we understand God’s protective powers. After she applies an Oak leaf poultice to her wound and receives healing, she recognizes that fortune as the blessing from God. It is God who keeps her away from despair and suicide. She explains that it is God who keeps her comfortable in the night and protects her from sexual abuse.
Rowlandson makes us know that God works directly through the scripture. During her captivity, Mary Rowlandson’s source of support and comfort is the bible. For example, she reads the bible stories about David and Job which are a source of continual hope in her everyday life as a captive. It is God who showed her particular bible verses which she needed in her day to day life. In her narrative, she says, “. . .
Rowlandson shows the fear of the new world
Just like other puritans, she is not sure how far the colonialists are going on the wildernesses. Though Lancaster was a frontier settlement, the settlers were pushing far from their established towns. She and other captives learn about the natural world and they gather food for themselves. They also get used to eating meat which formerly would upset their stomachs. This knowledge seems helpful to Rowlandson. However, it is a source of anxiety and guilty. This is because Mary Rowlandson fears leaving behind the life of civilization.
Mary Rowlandson wrote this narrative when the society placed limits on the roles of a puritan woman. During this time, women were dominated by men and thus they were expected to serve and be answerable to men. For example, according to Richard Baxter, wives were to ‘forsake father and mother and cleave to you’. This means that women could not serve their purposes as Mary did by writing her narrative. By writing this, Mary Rowlandson was understood as disobeying the gender roles (Burnett 81). Through writing this narrative, Mary Rowlandson’ purpose was to demonstrated to the society that she was an example of what the same society considered to be a true puritan women.
Reflects the role of women
As written in the narrative, Mary Rowlandson’s behavior reflects the role of women. As she meditates upon her children, the feminine role of maternity is depicted in this narrative. Rowlandson is caring towards her children, she cares for Sarah, her youngest daughter until she dies and causes a lot of distress and abnormal behavior to her. She almost wishes death but God makes her overcome the trial and martyred herself to suffering. Trading is another role of women depicted in Mary Rowlandson’s narrative. However, Rowlandson does not acknowledge the political and military roles of Wetamoo (Potter 161). Wetamoo refuses to accept a political role and dismisses it as an occupation of men in her society. This shows the narrative’s purpose to show the role of women in the society, especially during the 17th century (Ebersole 56).
Equating appearance and status
During the 15th century, race was not fully a source of superiority. Superiority lay in the belief of greater political organization, culture and civilization (Potter 156). In her narrative, Mary Rowlandson equates status and appearance. For example, she says, “When they came near, there was a vast difference between the lovely Faces of Christians, and the foul looks of those Heathens” (Rowlandson 159). This was the source of his abhorrence for the Native Americans. She less values the Native American people and their culture. Being a puritan, everything which was not Christina was of less value. She calls them heathens as she compares their behaviors with that of the Christians.
Realization of change
Mary Rowlandson’s narrative tries to show us how change realization and embracement is important in order for one to survive. Change is inevitable and thus we should respond positively to it. Mary Rowlandson basically lost everything by an Indian attack on her Lancaster town, Massachusetts in 1675. She was held prisoner and spent eleven weeks with the Wampanoag Indians as they traveled to safety. Rowlandson’s work shows her personality as she strangles to recognize her identity. The idea of food and remove are metaphors which led to Mary Rowlandson’s repression of depression, anger and realization of change throughout her journey and particularly during the end of her captivity. The idea food as an aspect in change realization is used in the narrative. This is because it is the only essential thing Mary required in everyday life in order to survive. Being a minister’s wife while at home, Rowlandson was a housewife who lacked nothing. She had plenty of good food, clothing ad shelter. In the narrative, we can see how she views the Indian’ choice of food; this changes throughout her journey of suffering and this also relates to the change she undergoes. For example, after losing her family, she had to follow the Indians in order to survive. The Indian’s diet was different from what Rowlandson was used to eating. She refused to eat anything during the first week of her captivity because she describes the Indian food as filthy trash and that she could starve and die before she ate such things (Rowlandson 306). However, as hunger continues to haunt her more and more, she represses her anger in order to survive. During the seven remove, she changes her views about the Indian food and she got two ears of the Indian corn which she dint want to give it up. Through this shift of food preference and change experienced by Rowlandson, she tries to make us/readers understand how change is important for one to survive (Scarbrough 98).
Highlighting history of women in colonial society
Mary Rowlandson’s narrative is noteworthy because of its significance in serving as a means for a woman to have voice in the puritan society. Her captivity narrative was of purpose in highlighting the history of women in the colonial society. Rowlandson’s narrative is a firsthand in accounting for the struggles of a puritan woman. Through her experiences as a captive, readers get to know about the position of women in the society and the pains they went through during colonial times such as sexual abuse, murder and loss of children. By recording her captivity, Mary Rowlandson demonstrated the restrictive roles of women during the seventeenth century. Though she dint realize it, she acted as a spokesperson for the women of her society (Breitwieser 678).
Reaffirming the male position in Puritan society
Mary Rowlandson’s narrative demonstrated the behaviors expected of women in puritan society. The narrative also reinforced the patriarchal society of puritan New England. The patriarchy of the family was composed of husband, who was the dominant member. All people in the family had roles to fulfill. The wife was above the children but below the man. In her captivity narrative, Mary Rowlandson wrote about how the Indians took her children from her. How she lost her family. She said, “All was gone, my husband gone…, my children gone, my relations and friends gone, our house and home, and all our comforts within door and without, all was gone except my life and I knew not but the next moment might go too.” (Rowlandson 59). According to Rowlandson, the attack destroyed the social structure of the family, all she had disappeared and she was subjected to a new and strange social order which was far different form her usual social patriarchy. Her narrative warns readers about the dangers of shifting from the structured male-dominated patriarchy. Rowlandson’s narrative was not only served as a significant role in the society for women but also men. This narrative reinforced the social order and beliefs of puritan men. If you read her narrative, you will notice that Mary Rowlandson is not calling for any change in puritan culture. She agreed with the social structure and the customs of the culture. She misses this while in captivity. Her work is not feminist.
Show the Blurred Line between Civilization and Savagery
Though her forced journey from civilization to wilderness ends with a triumphant return to civilization; Mary’s understanding of ‘civilized’ and ‘non-civilized’ changes. At the beginning, she views civilization as something which is not wilderness or savage. In her narrative, she claims the savagery of Indians is related to the natural world around them. For example, the Indians eat bear and hoarse meat, live in wigwams and spend their days travelling through swamps and forests. Due to this, she sees them as aggressive savages. However, as the narrative progresses, the differences between Indians and settlers become minimal. For example, Wettimore is as hopeless as a white woman, ‘praying Indians’ appear to have transformed to Christianity. She makes out her uncivilized deeds. This is when she starts to eat and take pleasure in the Indian food and she sometimes behaves like the Indians. Her civilization and savagery views are not much different during this period. Her former view of the world which was based on puritans and Indians, good and evil, savagery and civilization is replaced by another world view which is more ambiguous.
The sovereignty of goodness of God, a narrative of the captivity and restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson is a narrative about her experiences while under captivity of the Native Americans. This essay has explored purpose as a one of traditional rhetorical component and how it has been useful in this narrative. Mary Rowlandson is a female sufferer, innocent and humble. Her kidnapping expresses the puritan society’s beliefs and customs as well as the social structure. The narrative also identifies for its readers the worst fears. It makes sense to the readers through its puritan worldview, plays off their prejudices and also makes them understand that one ……
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