Captive Selves, Captivating Others: The Politics and Poetics of Colonial American Captivity Narratives

By Pauline Turner Strong | Go to book overview

from savagery are attributed to Providence. If English captives are figured as domesticated prey, their Indian captors are wild predators: wolves, tigers, vultures, dragons, or devils. The Indians' violence springs from their degraded nature rather than from any political grievance; their piety serves only to highlight, by counterexample, the spiritual degeneracy of the captives. The moments of dialogue in these narratives can hardly be called dialogical, for the captors' voices are only allowed to mimic those of the clerics (although an oppositional reading might detect a mocking tone). As in Rowlandson's narrative, the captor serves solely as an instrument of God to chastise, instruct, and convert the captiveand even fewer details are allowed (notably, Swarton's use of we, Mather Indian family, and the displaced Ruth) that might supplement or subvert this typification.

The clerical typification of captivity is presented in its most abstract and totalizing form in Cotton Mather "Observable Things." But of the captivity narratives of this period, it is The Redeemed Captive Returning to Zion that has proved the most enduring--perhaps less because of its central figure than because of the unredeemed captive at its margins. A fascinating if unsettling figure for her contemporaries, Eunice Williams over time would come to be understood less as an "unredeemed captive" than as a "white squaw"--a typification that bridged the gap between Captor and Captive, and that imagined, if ambivalently, an alternative social role for the adopted captive rather than a simple "fall." But it was not until Mary Jemison's narrative was published in the early nineteenth century that a transculturated female captive (also Iroquois) would gain something approximating her own voice ( Namias 1993, Seaver 1992 [ 1824]).47

By the time Jemison's narrative was published in 1824, however, captivity had acquired more secular meanings--largely but not exclusively attached to male captives. Chapters 6 and 7 will examine alternatives to the clerical typification of captivity that emerged during the colonial era. The narratives of two Quaker captives--Jonathan Dickinson and Elizabeth Hanson--exemplify religious alternatives to the Puritan typification of captivity, whereas those of two more acculturated male captives--John Gyles and Peter Williamson--follow Quentin Stockwell in developing secular approaches to the experience Cotton Mather called "Indian captivity."


Notes
1.
Lepore 1998 offers an analysis of contesting accounts of Metacom's War, among them Mather's and Rowlandson's. On this and other works by Increase Mather, see also Hall 1988 and Slotkin 1973.

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