Posted by: EJ
In the captivity narratives folder of the blog there are five blog posts. Between these five posts there are 18 comments. When you combine all of this text it is the equivalent of 18 typed pages.
These 18 pages contain truly original content – ideas we created because we thought they were worth discussing. So what better way to conclude this chapter in the Known World than to revisit these ideas we deemed so important and see if there is one theme that will unite them.
After re-reading these 18 pages worth of material we all seem to agree that these captivity narratives are adventures. Whether we are travelling into the depths of an ancient person’s life or into the hostility of Indian culture, all the protagonists in these narratives have grown from their adventures in one way or another – these experiences have come to define these characters.
Beginning with “Tough Love,” a post about Mary Rowlandson’s adventure, Adam raised the question, “Quoting scripture with the Indians as the Antagonists, was her purpose to make them seem all the more vile, or was she trying to hide her growing understanding of the people, as she spent over eleven weeks with them?” This question recognizes the two aspects of her narrative that we found most captivating: her obsessive use of scripture and her growing acceptance of Indian culture. These two aspects of her narrative show a great amount of growth within her. Her faith, however obsessive it may be, is the sole constant as she finds herself in this world of change and as Claire said, “what is her narrative but a testament to the strength of her faith?” With regards to her assimilation into Indian culture she begins by calling the Indians “black creatures,” but by the end of the narrative she is eating horse liver with them.
Continuing with the Indian captivity narratives Quinn’s post titled, “Struggling to Survive” outlined the many challenges that Sarah Wakefield faced as she repeatedly tried to escape from her relentless pursuer, Hapa. Sarah Wakefield’s narrative shows growth within her as she forms unique bonds with her children and with Chaska, her Indian protector. When Chaska is murdered we see a strong emotional reaction in Sarah Wakefield that leads her to become a strong supporter of fair treatment for the Indians. In this case Chaska, a man she met while on her adventure, truly changed the course of her life. Sarah Wakefield’s bond with her children grows tremendously as well while she is in captivity, “I begged him to spare me for my children’s sake . . . anything rather than die and leave my children” (Wakefield, 254). Wakefield’s bond grows so strong with her children, and she is so impacted by this adventure that she writes the narrative for herself and for her children to remember the events.
Allison’s blog post titled “The White Woman’s Burden” provided insight into the life of Mary Jemison and addressed what it truly means to be “in captivity.” Allison raised the question, “was she really a captive all those years?” In fact, Mary Jemison’s assimilation into Indian culture was so great that when given the opportunity to leave she chooses to stay for she truly believes she is one of the Seneca women. Allison left us with a quote “Time is the destroyer of everything” to which Sarah responded by saying “The longer she is living with the Indians, the fonder she becomes of them.” This experience ultimately defines Mary Jemison’s life, for as time goes on she discovers who she wants to be.
As we transitioned to the story of Beigh Masters and her obsession with Hannah, Christina and Kristi both addressed the assimilation of cultures as it appears in this particular story. Christina summarized the adventure of both of these characters when she wrote, “just as Hannah was captivated by the new, “brilliantly hued worlds” she found herself in, Beigh admiringly views Hannah’s life as a “richer life” than her own (171,222). This notion that these women can be literally “captivated” by a world other than their own supports the idea that their “captivity,” their enslavement to these different worlds, has changed their lives, led them on an adventure of their own, and created growth within them.
Today is November 17th, about a month away from the end of the course, and I have this craving to take our disciplined study of these texts and try to figure out what it means for us. These captivity narratives have stressed the importance that an adventure can have in one’s own life. What events, however small they may be, have changed your path through life? How will these events continue to impact you in the future? What adventure did these events lead you on and how did you grow as a result of it?
I will leave you with this. Yesterday night I participated in the residential scholars program – an effort to encourage informal discussion between professors and first year students. A nervous looking professor went up to the podium and explained his round about path to becoming a Dante scholar. He told us “think of your life as an organic whole. Your place in the world exists because you were born.” Every experience in that life will contribute to that whole, to that place in the world, and most importantly – to you.