Questions for Rowlandson, Beginning – Twelfth Remove

Close reading:

  1. Typology: How does the book of Job or the story of David or the the character of Daniel relate to Rowlandson’s captivity experience? How might this biblical context clarify her use of phrases like “ravenous Beasts” or “Barbarous Creatures” to describe indigenous people? What examples of Calvinism do you find in her narrative? Consider using this searchable online Bible to track down some of those biblical allusions.
  2. Captivity narratives: See this overview of the captivity narrative genre. In what ways do you see Rowlandson following these conventions or deviating from them in her personal account of captivity?
  3. Death: We’ve seen Bradford, Bradstreet, and Taylor reflect on the meaning of hardship either for the colony or within the family due to death from illness or injury. How does Rowlandson make sense of the death she has witnessed? How does she come to grips with her infant’s death?

Intertextual reading:

  1. Race relations: How do the other texts we’ve read that pertain to race relations help you make sense of Rowlandson’s portraits of Native Americans? Remember that the publication date for this text is 1682, nearly two hundred years after Columbus’s first contact. What has changed about race relations in this span of time? What has stayed the same? This synopsis of King Phillip’s War will add historical context for Rowlandson’s narrative.
  2. Religion: How does Rowlandson’s discussion of religion compare and contrast with other texts that we’ve read? In what ways might she be similar to other Calvinists? In what ways might she be different? What might these comparisons and contrasts suggest about religion in early America or the relationship between religion and American identity?
  3. Gender: How does Rowlandson compare to the other women we’ve seen in colonial American literature (female figures in the origin stories, Eve, Hutchinson, and Bradstreet)? In what ways is she conventional as a Puritan woman? In what ways is she unconventional?
  4. American identity: Rowlandson’s narrative brings us nearly to the end of the seventeenth century. How would you define “an American” at this point in history? Is there such a thing? What does Rowlandson’s narrative contribute to our understanding of the origins and evolution of American identity from the pre-Columbian period through the seventeenth century in Puritan New England?

Why did some white women prefer to remain with Native American tribes even after they had been ransomed?


Sample notes on Bradford

Of Plymouth Plantation

William Bradford

  • “And that it cost them something this ensuing history will declare” (106).  Bradford states his purpose early on, which seems to just be to prove the hardships his colony went through.  
    • “…hunted and persecuted on every side” — see both the Israelites in the OT and the early Christian church in the NT.
  • Bradford defends the decision to emigrate through both logical arguments, like the “hardness” of the Netherlands, and biblical references, such as Proverbs 22:3 (107).  Two other important notes are the safety of children and evangelistic opportunities.
  • Like other authors, Bradford uses ‘savage’ almost exclusively to refer to native inhabitants.  What evidence does he have that the natives are “cruel, barbarous, and most treacherous” except biased accounts from previous European explorers (109)?  And why does he feel the need to go into such great detail about these dangers?  His list of reasons why moving to North America would be a bad idea is so extensive, I wonder why they even tried.  
  • Of course, he answers that in the next paragraph: relying on “provident care and the use of good means…fortitude and patience” to overcome trials, and the promise of “the blessing of God in their proceeding” (109).  Not, he spells out, for “curiosity or the hope of gain, etc.” which are notably unchristian.

The Remainder of Anno 1620

  • Bradford makes a distinction between the “saints,” or members of his church and the “strangers,” people who came along for reasons other than religious freedom.  “Savages” could be added as a third group in the hierarchy.
  • January and February 1621 prove the concerns Bradford lists earlier were real, as “half their company died” from disease (121). These hardships also come with emotional and relational strife.  No mention of God’s will or providence concerning the sick, but “the Lord upheld” those who remained well (122).  
  • Person of note: Myles Standish, a captain from Virginia who beat out John Smith for the role he took helping the New England colonies settle.  Smith’s bio describes Standish as “more temperate” than Smith (57).
  • Perhaps unintentionally, Bradford’s language hardens when writing about Native Americans: “skulking” and “aloof off” are two examples (123). The first contact is engendered by a native, although Samoset did not live nearby.   
  • The one-sided “peace treaty” that secures far more protection for the settlers than they provide for others, reminds me of the legal documents Native Americans were forced to sign throughout the years without fully understanding their meanings (123).
  • Squanto is described as “a special instrument of God” for the help that he gave the colonists, rather than a human with any inherent good (124).  This is similar to Smith’s narratives about receiving any help or gifts from natives.

Prosperity Weakens Community (1632)

  • The Pilgrims fail to strike a balance between their individual endeavors and the community they began with.  A limitless land has its drawbacks, as does a “comfortable” church.  What is now thought of as the quintessential American dream Bradford calls the imminent “ruin of New England.”  It is part of what Winthrop, too, warned against in “A Model of Christian Charity.”

Troubles to the West (1634)

  • Extremes in both violence and sickness–smallpox, in this case.  Bradford returns to providence to explain why none of the English caught the disease (132).

War Threats/ War with the Pequots (1637)

  • Blame for both threats and instigation of war fall to the Pequots (any connection to the Pequod of Moby Dick?) in Bradford’s narrative.
  • “They gave the praise thereof to God, who had wrought so wonderfully for them, thus to enclose their enemies in their hands…” (135) The God of the Old Testament is a convenient one to have when you want to vanquish your enemies.  Then again, people can (and have and will) twist any religion to fit their agendas.
  • To get to the point: the violence does not solve anything.

A Horrible Truth (1642)

  • The real “horrible truth” is how heartlessly selective the Pilgrims are with OT law.  They weren’t following all the sacrificial rituals laid out in the same books of the law, but they feel obligated to follow the strict codes of punishment. The same selectivity will single out Exodus 22:18 (“Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live”) in 50 more years.
  • Sin is infectious
    • 3 explanations for sin in the “New World”: biblical (Matt. 13:25), outward (need of servants), and inward (want of increase)

Proposed Removal to Nauset (1644)

  • Another synthesis of logical reasoning and biblical grounding, this time for the decision of moving the church to please certain members.  Ends despairingly with the metaphorical “poor widow” that the church has become (implying the death of her husband, ie Christ?).

Questions for Bradford

  • History: How much of this narrative is factual history, how much is myth (symbolic of how Bradford wants to be remembered), and how can we identify the difference (if we can)? See Campbell’s timeline for a sense of where Bradford fits into the sequence of events in this early period. What similarities and differences do you see between Bradford’s history and others we’ve read?
  • Religion: What evidence of Calvinism do you find in Bradford’s narrative? See also Campbell’s definition of typology. What examples of typology do you find?
  • Style: Compare Bradford’s writing style to that of the other authors we’ve covered. What do you especially admire about his writing style? How does the content of his text differ from the others we’ve read? What seems notable about his metaphors, word choices (diction), and imagery?
  • Society: How do you think Bradford’s vision for Plymouth compares with Winthrop’s vision for Massachusetts Bay in “A Model of Christian Charity”? How does the fate of Thomas Granger compare with Anne Hutchinson’s?
  • Race and Identity: We get two contrasting glimpses of relations with Native Americans here. How might the oral narratives help you understand these contrasts? What do Bradford’s entries say about the state of seventeenth-century race relations in the New World?

Film clips about the first Thanksgiving:

Questions for Hutchinson

  • What, exactly, is Hutchinson charged with? How would you describe her alleged crime in your own words?
  • Where do you find Hutchinson especially persuasive in defending herself? At what point does her self-defense falter? What are some of the main turning points in her trial?
  • What comparisons and contrasts might you draw between Winthrop’s sermon, “A Model of Christian Charity,” and this trial transcript?
  • The brief biography at Perspectives in American Literature offers useful context.
  • How does Hutchinson’s use of the Bible both help and hurt her case? See the book of Titus and Jeremiah 46:27-28. This online Bible at the University of Michigan could be useful for searches about Daniel, Abraham, John the Baptist, and other figures that Hutchinson mentions.

Questions for Winthrop

  • What metaphors do you find in this sermon, and how do they help you understand Winthrop’s vision for the Massachussetts Bay colony?
  • What evidence do you find of Winthrop’s views on social class? How does this compare with your opinions about wealth and poverty in the U.S. today?
  • Why do you think this sermon is referenced almost exclusively by political conservatives today (beyond the obvious religious context)? See one exception below.
  • See Donna Campbell’s overview of Calvinism for the basic tenets of Winthrop’s faith. What illustrations of Calvinism do you see in “A Model of Christian Charity”?
  • How might a sermon be understood as a literary text? What makes a sermon different from other narratives we’ve read (origin stories, letters, and the hybrid texts that intertwine history, memoir, and other modes)? What stylistic examples do you see in Winthrop’s sermon that seem especially notable, and why might they be significant?
  • What mythological elements might we find in Winthrop’s sermon? What does the sermon contribute to our historical understanding of the Colonial period? What does Winthrop add to our understanding of colonial American literature?

Examples of allusions to Winthrop in American politics:

Questions for Smith

  • What does Smith add to our discussion of whether this period might be best characterized as one of discovery, contact, or conquest?
  • What do we learn from the bio sketch and Smith’s text about who his intended audience might be? What differences do you see between his imagined reader(s) and the audiences Columbus, Casas, and Cabeza de Vaca had in mind? How might Smith’s intended audience shape both his tone and the content of his narrative?
  • As with Vaca’s Relation, we might consider the stylistic complexity of Smith’s writing. How reliable is his presentation of the narrative as a history? What other literary classifications might be appropriate for this excerpt? Why might Smith refer to himself in the third person, and what effect does this have on the narrative?
  • How might we find a proper balance between “reading against the grain” of Smith’s narrative and trying to understand how his views might have been shaped by his time?

For fun, we might compare these film versions of Smith’s narrative with his original text:

Thoughts on “Ikto Conquers Iya, the Eater”

This story, like many transcribed oral narratives, invites a host of questions about authorship and textual preservation. It’s worth noting that the version the anthology provides by way of Deloria’s translation is not identical to the original, having lost the performative qualities of an oral narrative and the tribal sense of audience that the oral tradition assumes. Even so, the tale is remarkable for its stylistic contrast to the personal and historical narratives written by the Spanish and English during this period. Its relevance to our course lies primarily in its glimpse of a worldview other than the Judeo-Christian tradition and in the ways it and other oral narratives anticipate literary conventions that define American literature in the nineteenth century.

From its opening lines, “Ikto” piques the imagination. Iktomi is “wandering,” presumably without purpose, when he happens upon Iya. Both startle each other, and their debate about who is the elder establishes a conflict that moves toward a climax and denouement, the way a work of short fiction might. The characters are colorful, memorable for their imperfections (such as Iktomi’s cursing and Iya’s unwieldy girth), and unpredictable. As dull as Iya seems, bent only on eating everyone in his path, he is distinctive because he seems not to destroy the people he eats (whole tribes still live in his belly, as Ikto observes through his mouth as he sleeps). He poses a real threat, but he seems slow-witted as he confesses his vulnerabilities to Iktomi.

Iktomi is distinctive in other tales for his shape-shifting and caprice, but in this text his cunning is chiefly impressive. Rather than attempting to stop Iya through brute force, a match he would surely lose even if he is the elder, Iktomi lures him into confessing his vulnerabilities, then exploits them. As the footnotes suggest, this is a rare instance where Iktomi eases rather than causes human suffering, reinforcing the nuanced view of good and evil in the Iroquois and Navajo creation stories, where no deity or human is wholly good or wholly evil.

European writers of this period – Columbus, Casas, Cabeza de Vaca – stress the factuality of their writing, sometimes explicitly claiming not to lie or exaggerate. Iktomi makes no such promise to Iya, and his deception becomes a key stratagem for survival. Whereas a veneer of naiveté and honesty pervades the Spanish writings, cunning (even outright lying) is the mark of a superior mind in the Sioux tale. As we’ll see in the Puritan writings, Europeans often attributed this kind of cunning – when they observed it in their dealings with Natives – to evil, even satanic qualities. Doing so meant misunderstanding the reasons indigenous people had for speaking warily to Europeans – and the value that deception might have as a survival strategy.

But this quality – outwitting an antagonist or character foil – is often celebrated in short fiction. For instance, Irving’s prankster Brom Bones, in “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” dupes Ichabod Crane to the reader’s great satisfaction and, potentially, to the benefit of the community. One of the hallmarks of Enlightenment writing was satire, which might be seen as a close cousin of a lie: saying one thing but intending another. A satirist is a kind of trickster, one might say, who might use irony as an instructional tool or purely for entertainment.

These are only a few reasons why I believe it is imperative to frame the American literary tradition with the oral tradition. Trickster tales and creation tales not only reveal a rich literary history in North American before European contact, they also emphasize storytelling conventions that white authors would emulate as American fiction, poetry, and essay writing came of age in the nineteenth century. As Craig Womack suggests, “Without Native American literature, there is no American canon.” Not only should the American canon include Native American literature, it should recognize the influence of the oral tradition on literary style in America. Whatever innovations Washington Irving, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and other writers of the American Renaissance might have pioneered, they also owe a debt to the First Nations storytellers they emulated in part.