«By Robert Hilliker M. A., Brown University, 2003 B. A., University of British Columbia, 2000 Thesis Submitted in partial fulfillment of the ...»
Mather’s account of Dustan’s captivity certainly accomplishes this, bridging the gap between family and nation—one version of the personal/social split—through the middle term of kinship. However, this rhetoric needs to be carefully managed since the free play between these frames of reference could produce unintended, and undesirable, interpretations. For instance, when Mather makes kinship the crucial site of sociopolitical identification, the state of nature lurks in the background as a sort of antiidentification produced by moving from one kin group—and thus one community—to another. Read from a different angle, Mather is acceding here to the notion that international relations are, at some vital level, a function of kinship relations. This set of associations opens up the possibility that political relations with Native Americans presage future kin relations between the two groups. Ultimately, then, Mather’s refusal of relations must be understood as a refusal to see the Native Americans as a potential part of his kin group: “We aren’t related to them, so we can’t relate to them.” Thus, while this rhetoric of ambiguity may bridge certain differences, it also requires an insistence on certain others.
“THERE IS A FRIEND WHICH STICKETH CLOSER THAN A BROTHER”
Several critics have emphasized how Rowlandson’s cultural awareness increases over the course of her captivity, either because of her sudden and intense immersion in Native American ways of life (Michelle Burnham 66-7), or because her survival requires it (Deborah J. Dietrich 432-3). For feminist critics such as Dietrich and Lisa Logan this increasing awareness goes hand-in-hand with a decreasing investment in the patriarchal power structures of Puritan society (Dietrich 428, Logan 270-4). I would argue, however, that her narrative is in fact wholly devoted to preserving Puritan society and its patriarchal power structures. Placing Rowlandson’s captivity narrative alongside Mather’s and Radisson’s allows us to see how completely she rejects any real engagement with Native American customs and society. Observing the discursive consequences of Mather’s invocation of the state of nature we can now see how Rowlandson herself promulgates a discursive link between the supposedly duplicitous nature of the Indians and the commensurate disruption, if not destruction, of New England families—and thus New England society itself. Further, where Mather takes the duplicity of the Native Americans, and the ultimate victory of the New Englanders, almost for granted, Rowlandson’s text displays a greater vitriol commensurate with the novelty of her rhetoric.
While other critics have noted Rowlandson’s affirmation of the conventional, typological understanding of the Native Americans as God’s scourge to the community of the chosen, they have missed how she places the integrity of the nuclear family at the center of that larger community. Perhaps this oversight occurs because of the fundamental tension within Puritan ideology itself regarding the family; while the Puritans, much like other Calvinists, emphasized the symbolic importance of the family as a hierarchical system,127 Karen Newman, in Fashioning Femininity, remarks that Ephesians 6.22-25, which compares a husband at the head of a family to Christ at the head of the church, was one of the Biblical texts most frequently cited by Protestants writing about marital relations. While this passage evinces the same metonymic logic as Mather’s, Newman wisely cautions us against seeing these figures based on analogy as strictly literal, noting that the patriarchal conception of the family “was a construct, not a given” (17). Put in slightly they also believed that grace could not be passed from one family member to another.
An extreme example of this can be found in Michael Wigglesworth’s popular poem, “The Day of Doom,” in which “The godly wife conceives no grief, / nor can she shed a tear / For the sad state of her dear Mate, / when she his doom doth hear” (60, ll. 1573-1576).
Though Rowlandson ends her narrative with a phrase that could well have been drawn from Wigglesworth’s poem—that “outward things … are but a shadow, a blast, a bubble, and things of no continuance” (112)—throughout her narrative she insists upon the centrality of her family to her sense of identity. The very structure of her narrative reinforces this point, framed by its “Commend[ation] … to her dear Children and Relations” (Frontispiece), beginning with her violent separation from two of her children, and ending not with the end of her captivity, but with the ransom and return of those very children. Her story is complete, in other words, when her family is reunited.128 Even between these endpoints, Rowlandson’s narrative is punctuated by a series of pivotal encounters with her son (74, 81, 84, etc.), and instances when her captors refuse to let her see her daughter (75, 102). Reading the concluding line of her text in this light suggests not the radically affectless “Mate” of Wigglesworth’s poem, but someone genuinely disturbed by the possibility that her family will be dismembered again in the future.
different terms, we might say that Mather’s writings are no less figurative than Bradstreet’s, even if they are no longer metaphorical.
Thus, as Lisa Logan argues, “[t]he work of the text, title, and preface is to recuperate and restore the position(s) of Mary Rowlandson, to restore her to her home” (266). Or, if one accepts Mitchell Breitwieser’s interpretation of Rowlandson's text as a sign of incomplete mourning, we could say that her narrative is incomplete inasmuch as her family remains incomplete because of the death of her youngest daughter during their captivity.
Rowlandson’s focus on her nuclear family might be taken to indicate that she does not share in Mather’s use of the concept of kinship as a means of demonstrating the continuity between the family and the state. Indeed, it would certainly be possible to read Rowlandson’s narrative as bolstering Lawrence Stone’s argument that the cultural significance of kinship in England declined after 1630, giving way to the nuclear family on one hand and the nation-state on the other (124; cited in Gaunt 280). This is especially true given that her ongoing concern for the welfare of her children and her husband is paralleled by her lament at being removed from an English world—one where even cattle, fields, and paths can be identified as English (81). And yet, if we look more closely at her laments, we can see that kinship occupies a place of central importance in
her thinking. Thus, in her first remove, she says:
All was gone, my Husband gone (at least separated from me... ) my Children gone, my Relations and Friends gone, our House and home and all our comforts within door, and without, all was gone, (except my life) and I knew not but the next moment that might go too. (71) This passage provides a striking glimpse into how Rowlandson has mentally arranged her world into a series of concentric rings: husband, children, relations and friends. As this arrangement suggests, the nuclear family takes precedence in her narration, but it is never far removed from a consideration of a larger community of kin, itself implicitly constituted of other nuclear families like Rowlandson’s own.
Despite this implicitly biological ground for a linking of family and nation through kinship relations, Rowlandson uses the words “friends” and “relations” several times over the course of her narrative to apply to people who are not her kin in any clear biological sense (70, 71, 73, 81, 84, 87, etc.). The people who help her and her husband after their reunion are called both “passionate Friends” and “compassionate Christians,” and they offer “their love” to the Rowlandsons as well as their material support, an indication that this larger kin community is defined more by its social relations than its biological ones (108, 110-1).
This sense is reinforced by Rowlandson’s quotation of Proverbs 18.24:
“There is a friend which sticketh closer than a brother” (111). This proverbial phrase reads like Wigglesworth flipped on his head: rather than the affectless family we find a larger community based upon mutual affection.
Rowlandson’s identification of “friends” with “Christians” is all the more suggestive given that she likewise uses the word “English” almost interchangeably with “Christian.” The overlap between these three terms points to the larger continuity between the distinct circles of Rowlandson’s world, making explicit the link between family and nation that remains submerged in Mather’s own set of metonymies. While friends and family seem, from one perspective, to belong to different spheres—as Rowlandson puts it, “within door” and “without”—the reciprocal nature of kin relations, emblematized by Christian charity, binds them together under an aegis of Englishness (71). In other words, where Stone sees kin splitting off into the nuclear family and the nation-state, Rowlandson shows it to be the conceptual bridge between those two institutions.
This overlapping series of identity markers—Friend, Christian, English—also serves, as it later will for Mather, to ward off any possibility that Native Americans could somehow become kin. Thus, Rowlandson often performs her metonymic slight of hand— ”English” used for “Christian” and vice versa—when she wants to insist on the “Heathen” nature of all “Indians,” including “Praying Indians” (98). By the time Mather writes Decennium luctuosum, this metonymy is all but automatic, but in Rowlandson’s text it occupies a contested position as part of an ongoing debate in the New England community about the larger significance of King Philip’s War vis-à-vis Anglo-Puritan relations with Native American peoples.
Indeed, part of the initial justification for the colonial project had been to proselytize and convert the native population of the Americas—thus the seal of the Massachusetts Bay colony depicts a Native American man appealing to the English to “come over and help us.” Though Philip Round has shown that proselytization of the natives was not always foremost in the minds of the settlers, he also notes that the Puritans initially “interacted with the native people not as reified ‘others’ but as social agents of considerable importance” (205). Furthermore, Puritans like John Eliot, who produced a translation of the Bible into Algonquian, took a particular interest in converting the Native Americans and encouraged them to settle in “praying towns,” where they could adopt an English way of life (Salisbury 14-5). Eliot’s zeal was rare, but relations between Native Americans and English colonists were generally peaceful; during the Pequot War, the only major New England conflict prior to King Philip’s War, the English even fought alongside the Narragansett and other groups they would later fight against. Thus, in Neal Salisbury’s succinct turn of phrase, King Philip’s War “was not a war between strangers but rather one between neighbors … one in which people who had long coexisted rather abruptly concluded that they could no longer do so peacefully” (2).
Paradoxically, the success of Eliot’s praying towns may have helped lead to this violent conclusion. In his account of the events leading up to King Philip’s War, Salisbury makes a strong case for such an interpretation—examining such documentary evidence as an account of a meeting between the Wampanoag sachem, Metacom, known by the English as King Philip, and John Easton, the Governor of Rhode Island—to demonstrate how the pressures of converting to Christianity worked alongside those of imported alcohol and the sale of traditional lands to destabilize Native American communities and undermine their relationship with their English neighbors (18-9; see also John Easton’s “A Relacion of the Indyan Warre” in Lincoln 8-12). The proximate cause for the war may well have been the death of John Sassamon, a Native American convert who, in Salisbury’s words, “had struggled to reconcile the growing chasm between the Indians and the English” (21). Sassamon had served as an interpreter for Metacom for over a decade when, in March of 1675, he informed the Plymouth Governor Josiah Winslow that Metacom was preparing for war against the colony. Soon afterwards, he was found dead in a pond. The subsequent trial pitted the English colonists against unconverted Native Americans, with the Praying Indians placed squarely in the middle. War broke out less than a month after the trail’s conclusion.
In one sense, the cause of King Philip’s War was the problem of conversion itself. As we saw in Marie de l’Incarnation’s writings, religious conversion is often tantamount to a total conversion of identity. Much as her mission to educate the Native American children required bringing them into the cloister and teaching them an entirely new way of life, the Puritan mission insisted on settling the natives in segregated farming communities based around a church. But while both French and English settlers demanded religious and political faithfulness from Native Americans, the Puritan strategy hints at a deeper ambivalence about the desirability of completely incorporating them into the body of the church and the body politic. Thus, while Sassamon’s fate speaks to the difficulty and danger of living between two cultures, what Rowlandson’s narrative reveals is how this same danger fuels the Puritan refusal of relations with the Native Americans, driving them to misread, or reject outright, evidence of distinct Native American ways of life.