Mary Rowlandson

Puritan authorities interpreted King Phillip’s War as a sign of God’s wrath about declension, the phenomenon involving slow erosion of New England piety and the rise of materialism and religious liberalism in Puritan communities. Mary Rowlandson’s Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson exemplifies that concept in a way that internalizes the general catastrophe within a personal saga of sin and redemption. As a type of conversion narrative aimed at illustrating God’s direct intervention in her life, the Narrative includes familiar concepts of providence and absolute sovereignty, innate depravity and deliverance, and typological interpretations of experience bolstered by scriptural references and indirect forms of Biblical imagery. Rowlandson thus recounts her experience as a “spiritual autobiography and gives evidence of God’s sovereignty and grace, and of her own place among the elect” (Downing 252). Note that Rowlandson’s admissions of wrong-doing come early in the account, and are less frequent and less explicit as the narrative progresses.

Captivity narratives follow a pattern of action: attack and capture lead to several-stage forced march or journey, then to detention or trade/sale, and finally to ransom, escape, or rescue. The structure is compatible with what we have acknowledged to be a pattern of Departure, Peril, and Arrival in early Puritan accounts of experience. Represented primarily as a communal experience in earlier texts, the paradigm directly served a vision of society, and the social concept of cohesiveness existed at its core. In Rowlandson’s Narrative, however, the D-P-A structure is concentrated and personalized as a version of individual experience. With its frequent scriptural quotations, Rowlandson’s style and idiom makes portray individual events and experiences as signs of divine judgement or intervention, and every reprieve as a hopeful sign of grace, forecasting a final deliverance in heaven (Minter 339). Typically the variations in style involve daily occurrences in her ordeal followed up by reflections on her experience that she relates with biblical quotations and echoes. Fewer than one tenth of Scriptural references are to the New Testament. As exemplified in writings by other authors, the Puritans identified with the Israelites of the Old Testament: God’s chosen people building a nation out of a wilderness and struggling against a harsh land filled with hostile and godless enemies. The severity of the descriptions is intended in part to underscore the presence of grace, as indicated by Richard Slotkin: “Indian captivity victimization . . . was the hardest and most costly (and therefore the noblest) way of discovering the will of God in respect to one’s soul, one’s election or damnation”(Slotkin 101).

Key Concepts

ProvidenceAbsolute SovereigntyDeclension
Innate DepravityMilitaristic ImageryScripture
Departure-Peril-ArrivalTypologyRhetorical Immediacy

Works Cited

David Downing, “”Streams of Scripture Comfort”: Mary Rowlandson’s Typological Use of the Bible,” Early American Literature 15.3 (Winter, 1980/1981), 252-259.

David L. Minter, “By Dens of Lions: Notes on Stylization in Early Puritan Captivity Narratives,” American Literature, 45. 3 (Nov., 1973), 335-347.

Richard Slotkin, Regeneration Through Violence: the Mythology of the American Frontier, 1600-1860 (Wesleyan University Press, 1973).