Captivity An Analysis of culture

Topics: Native Americans in the United States, White people, Puerto Rico Pages: 7 (1131 words) Published: October 8, 2014
Imagine being taken by the enemy far from civilization only to find love of the enemy

and love for the world in which the enemy lives. Any preconceived notions about this enemy are

abandoned as time progresses, leading to new opinions, discoveries, and perceptions about the

world, challenging morality on a fundamental level. This transposition of worldly views is

illustrated by Louise Erdrich in her poem, “Captivity”, in which she impersonates Mary

Rowlandson who was captured by Native Americans in 1676. Erdrich opines Rowlandson’s

experiences and dynamic opinion of the Native American people. Through symbolism and

situational irony, combined with the juxtaposition of earthborn and monetary culture, Erdrich

explores the relationships between white settlers and Native Americans.

In the beginning, Erdrich describes a stream as “swift and so cold I thought I would be

sliced in two”. This vivid image represents a cultural split between the Indians and the white

people; the difference in culture is evident. This concept appears repeatedly throughout the

poem. Erdrich describes the white men as “God’s agents or pitch devils” revealing contradictory

feelings about the white men. The white men carry guns loaded with “swan shot” which implies

that killing an Indian is like killing and innocent swan in its own habitat. All of these excerpts

symbolize a confliction of beliefs between the Indians and their stereotype. After the reader

witnesses acts of kindness from the Indians, the “forest closed, the light deepened”. The forest

closing symbolizes the experiencing of more Indian culture were as the light deepening describes

the awareness and understanding of the differing culture. In the same fashion, Erdrich continues

to reveal the kindness of the Indian captors. The Indians offer tribal delicacies which symbolize

the kindness of the Native Americans towards the outsider. Following these kind gestures, the

captor cuts “the cord that bound me to the tree” revealing the obvious symbolism of the

relationship between the captive and the captor as well as the disjoining of all ties to a previous

culture. At this point in the poem, the speaker is completely cut off from the white people’s

culture. In the sixth stanza, after the captive is rescued, her husband “drives a thick wedge

through the earth, still it shuts to him every year.” Her husband’s actions represent the white

culture treating the earth with disrespect and therefore gaining nothing. At the close of the

poem, the speaker begs the earth to feed her “honey from the rock.” This final symbol divulges

that the speaker longs to reunite with the Indian culture because she wants to be in harmony with

the earth.

Throughout the poem, the situation of the captive is inherently ironic and Erdrich uses

this irony to emphasize the wrongs of the white culture. The captive actually enjoying being

captured and embracing the new culture provides a prime example situational irony. Erdrich

titled the poem “Captivity” not because of the captive, Mary Rowlandson, but because it refers

to the white culture and influence that the Indians were trying to escape. Erdrich avails irony

throughout the poem. Ironically, the speaker and the captor engage in sexual relations,

unexpectedly embracing Indian culture and abandoning morals. After their affair, “the birds

mocked shadows gaped and roared and the trees flung down their sharpened lashes.” Erdrich

describes God’s wrath as nature. Therefore, the Indian captor did not notice anything strange or

unusual happening. These multiple uses of irony show the extreme differences in culture and the

willingness of the captive to switch cultures. At the end of the poem the captive “could no longer

“Captivity”: An Analysis of Culture

bear the thought” of whom she is so she begs the earth to feed her...
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