Contrasting and Comparing Captivity Narratives
The captivity narrative genre includes writings by or about people captured by an enemy, usually one who is considered by the hostage to be a foreign and uncivilized heathen, and was especially popular in America and England in the seventeenth through late nineteenth centuries. Documents from the time show that between 1675 and 1763, at least 1,641 New Englanders were held in captivity as hostages, though many believe that the numbers are drastically low because of poor record keeping (Vaughan, 53). Regardless of the exact number of hostages, the fact is that thousands of people were profoundly affected by being held captive by the Indians. Some of those people, including Mary Rowlandson, Alvar Núñez Cabeza deVaca, and Mary Jemison, went on to write about their ordeal, and these experiences have both similarities and differences.
Mary Rowlandson was taken captive along with more than 20 other people when her home was attacked by Indians. Thirteen people were killed during the attack. She spent almost three months as a captive - a fraction of the time Cabeza de Vaca and Mary Jemison spent with their captors - and was forced to walk from place to place over many miles. She was mistreated by most of the Indians, but received compassion from a few as well. She viewed her captivity as a way to draw closer to God and seek out His providence.
Alvar Núñez Cabeza deVaca’s expedition to the New World was one run of bad luck after another. Shipwreck, desertion, and disease reduced their numbers from six hundred to just four. They even named the island they stayed on with the Indians, Malhado, which means “misfortune” (Cabeza de Vaca 13). Although the Indians seemed to welcome Cabeza de Vaca and did not sacrifice him to their gods as he expected, he was still treated very harshly and given a great deal of hard labor to perform. Cabeza de Vaca decided to escape his captors, not to go back home (for that would be...
Cited: Cabeza de Vaca, Alvar Núñez. “The Narrative of Cabeza de Vaca.” American Literature Before
the Civil War, Week 2 (2011): 10-20.
Rowlandson, Mary. “A Narrative of the Captivity and the Restoration of the Mrs. Mary
Rowlandson.” American Literature Before the Civil War, Week 4 (2011): 73-98.
Seaver, James. The Life of Mary Jemison: The White Woman of the Genesee. Scituate, MA:
Digital Scanning, Inc, (orig. 1824) 2001. Print.
Vaughan, Alden. “Crossing the Cultural Divide: Indians and New Englanders, 1605-1763.”
Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society 90 (1980): 23-99.
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