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Mary Rowlandson’s Characteristics


A middle aged wife and a mother of three, Mary Rowlandson is the protagonist and narrator of the book The Sovereignty and Goodness of God. Although born in England, she lived in America for four decades and married there. She was a Christian pious and Christianity played a central role in her life. She was captured by the Native Americans (the Red Indians) during King Philip's War. She endured 11 weeks of captivity and after her release, she wrote her book; The Sovereignty and Goodness of God. Despite the numerous hardships that Mary Rowlandson faced, her strong Christian beliefs and devout faith in God would help her to make sense of the world that she was living in and would be a contributing factor in her survival.

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Mary Rowlandson's book was among the first captivity narratives to be published as a single book and it became bestseller in America. In February 1675, during King Philip's reign, Indians had gone to war to defend their culture and they launched bloody attacks in which hundreds of people were either killed or taken captive. One of the captives was a colonialist Mary Rowlandson who was captured on a raid of her home in Lancaster. She was taken captive for 11 weeks and five days, she narrates her ordeal as a captive slave. Her Christian faith helped, she was a puritan helped her endure the ordeals and the pains of starvation, occasional beatings and grieve of her 5 year old daughter who endured wounds during the attack. Mary had a special talent for knitting shirts, caps and stockings and this really proved useful especially to her masters as they were forced to travel long distances.

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Rowlandson's characteristics

In her narrative, we see that God's omnipresent intervention. To her, everything that happens to her and any other human being is caused by god and He has a meaning for it. She applies her principle of puritan. Her faith in religion, she was a puritan Christian, helped her psychologically throughout in her life. From the sudden initial brutal attack, she endured many tribulations on the hands of her captors. She witnessed many deaths where twelve people including her elder sister's death and her nephew all of which she witnessed. She was later to be wounded and her small daughter Sarah who later died after nine agonizing days and buried in the wilderness by the captors. She was again separated from two of her children, William and Mary. After all this counts, she must have been emotionally and physically weakened as she later endured twenty forced "removes" during winter.

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She has to endure all the physical hardships and on top of that she had to take "filthy trash" (p44) as food which included horse feet and liver and bear meat. She admits that before her captivity, her religious faith had been lax, she recalls in the third remove, "I then remembered how careless I had been of God's holy time, how many Sabbaths I had lost and misspent and hw evilly I had walked in God's sight, which lay close unto my spirit that it was easy for me to see how righteous it was with god to cut the thread of my life and cast me out of His presence forever" (p38) (Derounian, Kathryn Z., P85). Rowlandson's develops her spirituality which lays the foundation for permanent reversal of values described towards the end of her narration. She ascribes this when she writes, "look beyond present and smaller troubles and to be quieted under them" (75).

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She stresses the significance of her captivity by referring to the Old Testament characters like Joseph, Samson and Daniel and thus identifies her captivity with these men of the bible who had a cycle of biblical captives. (Derounian, Kathryn Z., P85). From her narrative, we discern a line of orthodoxy that takes precedence over her experiences. But counteracting the religious commentary in the book, we see that she is a deeply psychologically troubled person. The psychological trouble exists throughout the narrative but is more evident towards the end where Rowlandson reviews her past and her present spiritual and emotional. She shows signs of "survivor syndrome" which is mental and physical effects especially evident to survivors of mass persecution and natural disasters. Throughout the narrative, she shows signs of emotional bleakness and depression but again, suppresses these with spiritual interpretations. An example is in the conclusion part where she claims that she is "weeping for joy at God's goodness in preserving her and her family" while we are aware that most of her family members were killed or taken captive. (Derounian, Kathryn Z., P85).  

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Another example is when she was initially captured and fell into a state of shock. This numbed her against physical, emotional and spiritual dislocation. In fact in the narrative she even refers to her psychological denial of her experience, "and here I cannot but remember how many times sitting in their wigwams and musing on things past I should suddenly leap up and run out as if I had been at home, forgetting where I was and what my condition was".(52). This state continues for like a month before finally emotional anesthesia gave way to tears. She strives to overcome her anxiety by always referring to God's providence in sending her affliction despite remaining with psychological unrest and tensions. Although she feels depressed, she does not regress to "psychic numbing". (Derounian, Kathryn Z., P85).

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Rowlandson always applies her puritan principle and we can say she is faithful to it. This is the reason why even after sister is struck by a bullet she is not aggrieved but only asks God to let her die with her beloved. When her sister dies, she interprets this as her answers to her plea. Even in her captivity, she translates this as God's will and therefore sees more to this than her captivity. That is why she starts to remember the many Sabbaths she wasted without going to church.

 Although such a strong Christian, she was at the verge of despairing and even thought of suicide on several occasion. She develops a lot of anxiety which takes the form of nightmares and insomnia. She narrates this towards the end of her book where she writes, "I can remember the time when I used to sleep quietly without workings in my thoughts whole nights together, but now it is other ways with me (Mary Rowlandson's Captivity and Restoration). Another description of Rowland apart from developing spiritually is gotten from her description of Indian demeanor. She is able to easily adapt to the Indian cultural norms. At her master's place, she is not able to provide for herself but dependent on her master to provide her with food and shelter. On page 9 of her book, we see her appreciating the Indian generosity by that a squaw "showed herself very kind" (p39). In fact she is very astonished that total strangers can treat her politely and be hospitable sometimes. On page 40 she narrates her experience:

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"I went out and could not tell what to do, but I went into another wigwam, where they were also sitting round the fire, but the squaw laid a skin for me, and bid me sit down, and gave me some ground nuts, and bade me come again, and told me they would buy me, if they were able, and yet these were strangers to me that I never saw before."[40] Worthy of mention is also the respect that Rowlandson has for King Philip and her master Quinapin who is also a subordinate chief. She seems to allege that her master was her best friend among the Indian people. On page 47 she shows her gladness at meeting him. During this stay, she not only learns to live with the Indians but goes further to appreciate their culture (Mary Rowlandson's Captivity Narrative).

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In a nutshell, when Mary Rowland is captured she suddenly finds herself to be an Indian captive and as such she loses physical and psychological security of her puritan faith. She is left on her own to make out what is happening to her. She is such into her religious puritan faith that she employs the only pattern she can think of; interpreting all the incidents happening to her religiously. Everything in her narration is influenced by puritan conceptualizations and sticks to their conventions. She is so into her faith that wherever there are inconsistencies she has to find a way to adjust her perception and hold on to the puritan concepts. Her defining characteristics of obedience, humility, passivity and dependence concretely cement her relation between historical specific behaviors and divine intervention.

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