Clash of Cultures Term Paper

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Puritans and Native Americans

What scholars call the "captivity narrative" has had a remarkable life of its own in American culture: stories about this kind of "captivity" continued to be told as entertainment, in Hollywood films like "The Searchers" or "Dances With Wolves," long after anyone had been abducted by a Native American tribe and held captive. It is worth inquiring why this particular type of story maintains its fascination for an American audience, by returning to where these narratives first came from, and how they were told in the centuries before Hollywood movies existed. In Colonial America, the life of Mary Rowlandson presents an excellent way to examine the clash of cultures. Rowlandson was born in England but came to New England as a Puritan colonist: she was then abducted during the "First Indian War" and held for several months before a ransom was paid and she was released to her husband. An examination of certain facts about Rowlandson's story may enable us to better understand the colonial "clash of cultures" in its larger historical context.

The title-page of Rowlandson's own account of her kidnapping, which was published in 1682, identifies her as "A Minister's Wife in New-England," and it is this fact that governs the way the colonists understood the clash of cultures. The title-page advertises an account of "the Cruel and Inhumane Usage she underwent amongst the Heathens, for Eleven Weeks time" but it also advertises the "Last Sermon" preached by the author's husband, the Reverend Joseph Rowlandson. The subject of that "last sermon" is "the Possibility of God's Forsaking a People that have been near and dear to him." It is crucial to understand the cultural peculiarity of the Puritans that were colonizing New England at this time to understand why Mary Rowlandson's story should be told in this way. Faery (1995) has indicated that Rowlandson's text
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contains an anonymous preface which was written by the famous Puritan preacher Increase Mather, and so therefore Mary Rowlandson's kidnapping tale is sandwiched between the work of two Christian ministers: "When the first edition of Rowlandson's text appeared, it was literally bracketed by the voices of Puritan clergymen: Mather's preface precedes her narrative, and Joseph Rowlandson's last sermon, preached just days before his death, followed it in early editions. The preface makes clear why this tale written by a woman must be enclosed by authoritative male voices: their function is to foreclose the possibility of her text's being read in ways that would render Puritan race and territorial politics subject to critique" (Faery 126-7). In other words, the notion that perhaps Mary Rowlandson's kidnapping might be justified in light of the original inhabitants having a claim to the land, and in terms of the war that was being conducted between the English colonists and the Native Americans, cannot be expressed in a work like this. The Puritans had a strong religious ideology, and that ideology would govern the way in which they understood everything that happened to them -- even a kidnapping by "Heathens."

To a certain degree, the Puritans believed in what was called "typological reading." This was a religious belief that everything that happened in life was a sign or symbol (or "type") of God's message for true believers. In this "typological reading" of the book of nature, the Puritans were Christian "chosen people" and that North America represented their "promised land," giving them a sense of Old Testament self-righteousness about establishing a faith-based community in Massachusetts. When we consider that these Puritans were mostly fleeing an England which, in…

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References

Downing, D. (1981). 'Streams of Scripture Comfort': Mary Rowlandson's Typological Use of the Bible. Early American Literature 15(3), 252-9.

Faery, R.B. (1995). "Mary Rowlandson (1637-1711)." Legacy 12 (2), 121-132.

Rowlandson, M. (1682). A True History of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson, A Minister's Wife in New England. Retrieved from: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/851/851-h/851-h.htm

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