Different Views on Native Americans: Benjamin Franklin & Mary Rowlandson Kenneth Brafman
Dr. Anne Nichols
I chose to write about these two authors because their views on the Native Americans are both very different and I think it is interesting as to why. Benjamin Franklin who writes (Remarks Concerning the Savages of North America, p.244-248) seems to have a much more positive and understanding outlook towards the Indians, where Mary Rowlandson who wrote (From a Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson, p. 127-143) is much more negative. Mary was a captive of the Indians for a period of time so her opinion of them is a bit more personal and biased.
It seemed as if Franklin wanted people to understand that even though the Indians where different from them that that was okay. All cultures are different, and within those cultures people’s lives are different, but that doesn’t make them evil. His opening line says it perfectly, “Savages we call them, because their Manners differ from ours, which we think the Perfection of Civility. They think the same of theirs” (p244). He starts off by going over the gender roles in their society explaining how the young men are hunters and warriors and at old age provide council. The women till the ground and bring up the children. He also examines how it is a rule of politeness to the Indian people not to answer a public request the same day that it is made, as to not send the wrong message that what is being considered is not important. He goes on for a bit to really emphasize the Indians politeness at all times. Franklin generally has a warmness toward the Indians and is able to sit back and appreciate them for their culture rather than criticize them because they have different views on the world then the Colonists did.
Franklin makes a very interesting comparison when he takes the government in the Indian council and the British House of Commons. He first states about how when someone is going to speak in the Indian council everyone remains quiet and listens, then everyone waits after he is done for him to collect his thoughts and make sure he did not miss anything. He then speaks about how in the British House of Commons people are usually screaming over another and house speaker has to yell for order. This is a good example by Franklin to show in a way how the Indians where more civil than the Europeans. Mary Rowlandson does not have the same attitude.
Rowlandson narrates her story in first person and it is about the things she witnessed and the experiences that occurred to her during her time as a captive with the Indians. During an Indian attack she witnessed friends and family being murdered ferociously. When she was captured she travelled with her youngest daughter, battling injury starvation and depression while being moved from Indian village to Indian village. She constantly refers to them as heathens and inhumane creatures along with many other negative terms. Along her journey her youngest dies and she is separated from her remaining children. Her captives give her a Bible they retrieved from a raid and she quickly turns to her faith to give her the strength she needs to make it through this situation. Mary throughout her writings is extremely passionate, her tone is generally despair but she remains hopeful that she will be freed eventually.
Apart from the tragedy that Mary had to live with I think the two writings are also different because of Mary’s dedication to her puritan lifestyle. You have these puritans who live and breathe the bible clashing with this culture of people who don’t. Everything about the Indians probably looked heathen to them. Mary draws many references from the Bible which helps her keep hope, I find it ironic that with such a heavy Christian faith that she keeps a negative outlook towards the Indians. This Puritan way of life has almost lead her to be ignorant of...
References: Baym, Nina. "Benjamin Franklin: "Remarks Concerning the Savages of North America." The Norton Anthology of American Literature. New York: W.W. Norton, 2008. 244-48. Print.
Baym, Nina. "Mary Rowlandson: From Captivity and Restoration." The Norton Anthology of American Literature. New York: W.W. Norton, 2008. 127-43. Print.
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