Test of Faith in Mary Rowlandson’s: The Sovereignty and Goodness of God
The Sovereignty and Goodness of God is an account of Mary Rowlandson’s time with North Eastern American Indians, after being captured during Metacom’s War. The Narrative seems fractured with the narrative voice continuously switching perspectives. Rowlandson’s ever-changing view, use of biblical text, and her experiences with the Indians define her as woman whose faith sets an example for others of the puritan society.
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Mary Rowlandson’s captivity Narrative was used as propaganda for the Puritan religion. It was employed to teach the Puritan community that God tests his followers and that no matter the struggle; faith must be maintained in order to be rewarded. As a Puritan, Rowlandson believes that God’s grace and divine intervention molds the events of the world. She and other Puritans feel that God shapes things for a purpose. Rowlandson argues throughout her Narrative that people have no choice but to accept God’s will and attempt to make the best of it. Rowlandson’s attempt to make the best of it is shown through parallels of biblical text. She believes everything in her Narrative happens for a reason, a reason that is almost always a test of one’s faith in God. The Narrative itself shows evidence of the test Rowlandson believes she has undergone; she believes “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whome he receiveth” (Rowlandson 112). Rowlandson feels that she has been tested and proved her faith in the lord God, she writes:
Affliction I wanted, and affliction I had, full measure (I thought) pressed down and running over; yet I see, when God calls a Person to any thing, and through never so many difficulties, yet he is fully able to carry them through and make them see, and say they have been gainers thereby. And I hope I can say in some measure, as David did, It is good for me that I have been afflicted. (Rowlandson 112)
Rowlandson not only shows her acceptance of the fact that her captivity was part of God’s plan but the usage of biblical texts aligns her with famous martyrs of the Christian world. Rowlandson translates the experiences she has had while being a captive the only way she knows how, as a Christian who’s being tested by God. The Puritan culture believed God tested the faith of the elect/chosen of his people, that belief is seen every time Rowlandson quotes biblical verse. God has a presence in everything Rowlandson does. She believes “[God] will be with [her]” (Rowlandson 94) as she goes through the trial and tribulations of her captivity.
When contemplating the use of the narrative as propaganda and the fragmentation of the text, we must examine the climate that surrounds the publication. Changes in government were occurring in Massachusetts; “these caused New English ministers to support and to use women’s captivity writings for their own purposes” (Toulouse 1). One of these changes was the potential and eventual loss of the original Massachusetts charter in 1685. Reactions to the loss of the charter begin as early as the Restoration of 1660 and caused conflict during the time of the Narrative. The second change was brought about by the Glorious Revolution in England of 1688, in which William, the Protestant Dutch Prince of Orange, effectively captured the English throne the Catholic James Stuart (James II). The Glorious Revolution provided the means colonists used to overthrow Edmond Andros, the first royal governor of the Dominion of New England, and his supporters in 1689 (Toulouse 1).
Arising conflicts between the charter and the Glorious Revolution resulted in two imperial wars, the War of the League of Augsburg in 1689 and the War of the Spanish Succession in 1702. “These wars were called “King Williams” and “Queen Anne’s” wars” (Toulouse 2). These wars, only served to deepen continuing issues such as those concerning legitimate European succession, rights of possession, and expansion that was being experienced in New England as boundary and trade wars involved shifting Indian allies (Toulouse 2). “Joint Indian and New French alliances led to numerous assaults on New English borders to the north and especially to the east that resulted in the capture of a large number of New English captives. A recent study suggests that between 1675 and 1713 (the Peace of Utrecht) up to seven hundred such captives were taken” (Toulouse 2).
In The Captive’s Position, Teresa Toulouse believes:
Traditional colonial New English religious elites directly relate their religious legitimacy and authority to the colony’s political legitimacy and authority and therefore react to these changes in a variety of ways. As historians have shown, after halting a then open opposition to royalist intervention in New England in the mid-1680’s, such leaders come to rally around William as “Englishmen” after the Glorious Revolution, and deploy a new rhetoric of policies rights and religious toleration. They do this however, in order to protect certain traditional New English character and church privileges, which ultimately deny rights and toleration to those who dissent from them politically or religiously. Unfortunately while identifying with a newly defined Protestant political/religious culture in post-Restoration England their identity, handed down from generations of ancestors bring their new affiliations into doubt (Toulouse 4).
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Using quotes from scripture to separate herself from the lives of the Indians, Rowlandson also utilizes biblical text to portray the events of the time she was held captive by the Indians. Mary Rowlandson’s captivity Narrative can therefore be read as a reaction to external threats, whether Indian, European, or both. It ought to also be read in terms of internal conflicts and competitions within New England, specifically within Massachusetts itself. Every time she starts to feel sympathy for Indians she uses the bible to maintain her Puritan English state. When similarities between Rowlandson and her Indian captives become apparent, she backtracks and clings to her biblical verse to set her apart even though she now shares characteristics with the “barbarous” (Rowlandson 70) Indians. The lines become blurred as she finds herself eating and enjoying the Indian’s food and at times behaving as they do. Rowlandson uses biblical verse to set herself apart from the Indians, as well as to justify her actions to the Puritan people by familiarizing them with her experiences. She believes “there [are] many Scriptures which we do not take notice of, or understand till we are afflicted” (Rowlandson 93). Rowlandson makes sense of the situation by firmly sticking to the fact that many believe that God has tested her.
Throughout the narrative there is biblical verse woven into the text, as if Rowlandson clung to these verses while in captivity, except for some instances where the verse seems to be added in as an afterthought. “When thou passeth through the waters I will be with thee, and through the rivers they shall not overflow thee” (Rowlandson 79) is not woven into the text, but seemingly dropped into the center, thus strengthening the argument that Mary Rowlandson’s Narrative was written for and used as propaganda for the Puritan society. The Narrative continually changes perspectives throughout its composition, making the work appear fragmented. The author writes primarily in present voice but jumps back into time occasionally throughout the text, as well as in some instances alluding to the future (said future of thing she could not have known about during her captivity). Rowlandson’s tone throughout the narrative is littered with hindsight. She tells the story of her captivity after she has already lived it and thus knows how the story ends. Her tone is predominately hopeful but is at times filled with despair making it very didactic. There is some speculations that while the Narrative states on the cover of the document that it was written by Rowlandson’s “own hand for her private life and now [is] made public at the earnest desire of some friends” (Rowlandson Cover), that it may not have been entirely written in her hand as stated. There is evidence also in the preface of the Narrative. The preface begins by explaining the context of Metacom’s War and mentions Mary’s husband Joseph long before it mentions her, even though she’s the author. Then when the preface does mention Mary, it mentions her as Joseph’s “precious yokefellow” (Rowlandson 45), “dear consort” (Rowlandson 45) and as “gentlewoman” (Rowlandson 45) not as the author of the work.
In conclusion Mary Rowlandson’s captivity Narrative, the Sovereignty and Goodness of God is a pious accounting of a Puritan woman’s struggle as an Indian captive during Metacom’s War. Rowlandson effectively delivers a compelling recounting of her tale as a captive along with a bible lesson in each remove. Her use of biblical text, her ever changing point of view, and experiences with the Indians define her as an author and her work as an example of strong faith to the rest of the Puritan society.
Rowlandson, Mary. The Sovereignty and Goodness of God. Boston, MA: Bedford/ St. Martin’s, 1997.
Toulouse, Teresa. The Captive’s Position: Female Narrative, Male Identity, and Royal Authority in Colonial England. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006.
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