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The Sovereignty and Goodness of God by Mary Rowlandson: Summary & Explanation

Instructor: Jacob Erickson

Jacob has his master's in English and has taught multiple levels of literature and composition, including junior high, college, and graduate students.

This lesson will look at Mary Rowlandson's autobiographical account of her abduction by Native Americans. We'll explore the context, events, and impact of her text on the captivity narrative genre.

Mary Rowlandson

In The Sovereignty and Goodness of God (also known as The Narrative of the Captivity and the Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson), Rowlandson recounts her experience of being kidnapped by Native Americans in 17th century New England. Rowlandson, who was born in 1637, moved to Lancaster, Massachusetts around 1650 and was abducted in 1675 by a collection of Wampanoag, Narragansett, and Nashaway Indians. After 11 weeks, Rowlandson was released; she published her story in 1682, six years after the experience, making her the first woman in North America to produce what is called a captivity narrative.

The narrative of Rowlandson quickly became popular and is still considered to be one of the most important early American texts.
Mary Rowlandson

Part of readers' fascination regarding Rowlandson's narrative derives from an eagerness to keep up with the evolving relations between European settlers and Native Americans. Europeans had started to settle New England in 1620 and inevitably expanded their territory further into Native American land. In 1650, Lancaster was on the Massachusetts frontier and was one of the new settlements where conflict would occur. Not only were New Englanders and English readers interested in the fates of the new settlers, but many had financial investments in the colonies, and the possibility of Native American uprisings threatened to harm these investments.

The Captivity Narrative

Rowlandson's account begins on the morning of February 10th, 1675, when a band of Native Americans attack Lancaster, Massachusetts. After overtaking the settlers' defense, the natives kidnap at least two dozen settlers, leaving 13 others dead. Along with her wounded youngest daughter and another daughter and son, Rowlandson is taken as a captive into the surrounding wilderness. At this point, Rowlandson begins dividing her experience into 20 different 'Removes'.

Although Rowlandson is separated from her two other children, she's allowed to keep her youngest daughter, and, despite them both being severely wounded, they are shown little compassion by their captors. Shortly into the journey into the wilderness, Rowlandson's youngest daughter dies, and Rowlandson is sold to a different owner. Following the burial of her child, Rowlandson is allowed to visit with her daughter and later with her son, who encourages her to stay positive and trust in God. Rowlandson soon acquires a Bible, which brings her comfort and provides the opportunity for Rowlandson to encourage her reader to recognize the power and love of God.

Rowlandson's journey continues, and at times she believes the English army is close and might potentially rescue her. Describing the tremendous lack of resources the Native Americans had, Rowlandson goes into great detail regarding how her captors survived on the little food that they had, as well as how they evaded the English army. She is not rescued, however. She despairs over the position she is in as she watches Native Americans return to camp with spoils they acquired from raids on local English settlements. After several attempts to persuade her captors to let her go in return for a ransom, Rowlandson again struggles with the thought of never escaping.

Ultimately, Rowlandson's persistence pays off, and the leader of the tribe she belongs to makes contact with English settlers in Boston. After a series of negotiations, it's finally decided that Rowlandson will be returned for a ransom. Before describing her return to her husband, Rowlandson pauses to further reflect on and outline for her readers the infinite love and providence that God has for his followers. The story then concludes with Rowlandson's description of her return to Boston and a final piece of encouragement to her readers to trust in their Creator.

Analysis

In addition to giving insight into the encounters between settlers and native peoples, Rowlandson's narrative allows critics to explore the ways in which European settlers of North America portrayed native populations. The tension, for example, between describing the natives as savages and the Christian doctrine of love and acceptance is apparent throughout the narrative. While Rowlandson does frequently treat her captors as savages, critics also point out the moments in which she reflects a seemingly authentic appreciation towards them. At one point in the story, for example, she describes the benevolent treatment of one of her captors and reflects on the kindness of her heart.

At the time that Rowlandson was abducted, Lancaster was on the frontier of the territory of English settlers.
Lancaster

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