Rhetoric, Religion, Wilderness, And War: Creating The Racial Other In Rowlandson's Captivity Narrative
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DepartmentEnglish and Languages
ProgramDoctor of Philosophy
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Using a postcolonial lens as well as several other critical approaches, this study explores four areas--rhetoric, religion, wilderness, and war--in Rowlandson's influential and popular captivity text The Sovereignty and Goodness of God (1682). I examine these areas to show how the narrative fuses these categories to form a powerful Eurocentric-based whiteness at a critical historical moment when English colonization was still relatively young. Together, these elements justify domination both of the land and of the non-European Other (even to the point of extinction). I argue that these areas worked in a mutually beneficial manner--for European whites--to help codify America's view that "the only good Indian was a dead Indian." Examining this powerful quartet reveals the importance of Rowlandson's narrative in helping to define the early cultural identity of colonial Americans and, by extension, our own contemporary identity and attitudes toward the Other. As such, this study examines selected seventeenth century "come-hither" literature as well as several captivity narratives emerging from the end of that century and from the beginning of the eighteenth. This conversation then expands to include selected later works such as Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans, a "modern" captivity narrative, as well as contemporary "captivities" from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The study begins with an investigation of the rhetoric used to portray the Native American and the settler. Rowlandson's text reflects a dramatic shift in how Euro-colonists envisioned natives, which contributed to the process of othering. Chapter two examines the contest between native and Puritan religions and how Rowlandson's negative portrayal of praying Indians casts into doubt the concept of Anglo-Indian compatibility. Chapter three studies the narrative's sinister portrayal of the wilderness and how it is mapped onto the indigenous population. Chapter four moves the discussion to King Philip's War, which precipitates and backgrounds Rowlandson's captivity. War is the ultimate process of cultural and racial othering. Concomitantly, beneath this ecclesiastically-approved (white male) narrative lies a subtle multivocality. Rowlandson's narrative intriguingly provides a voice to the frustrated indigene, which is paradoxically expressed by the captive herself in her wilderness and wartime condition. Also voiced is a proto-feminist subtext in the words and deeds of the female protagonist who ironically is afforded more freedom as a captive in the wilds than as a member of colonial society. This study concludes with a look at selected captivities from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which highlight the foundational aspects of the captivity narrative tradition in our literature with its portrayal of the Other.