«By Robert Hilliker M. A., Brown University, 2003 B. A., University of British Columbia, 2000 Thesis Submitted in partial fulfillment of the ...»
The interactions between Rowlandson and her “mistress,” the Squaw-Sachem Weetamoo, are an illuminating case of this forcible misprision. Notably, Rowlandson names Weetamoo only once in her text, generally referring to her instead simply as her “mistress,” or as “King Philip’s wife’s sister.” As Laura Arnold has noted, the effect of this is to redefine Weetamoo’s social status in Anglo-American terms, making her title wholly dependent on her male relations (11-12). Rowlandson’s repeated insistence upon this “redefinition,” which results from both a noncomprehension of and a refusal to accept Algonquian cultural practices, leads to a series of violent confrontations between her and her “mistress.” Rather than seeing that these conflicts result from her perceived misbehavior, however, Rowlandson blames the inconstant behavior of her captors, saying “Sometimes I met with favour, and sometimes with nothing but frowns” (85).
Rowlandson is hardly the only European, of course, to accuse Native Americans of inconstancy or, as she does later in her narrative, duplicitiousness. In Rowlandson’s text, however, this assumption of duplicity operates as an implicit evocation of the state of nature. Her refusal to relate to or with her captors is grounded in their supposed inability to relate to her because of their lack of stable social institutions. In other words, Rowlandson’s problem with the Native Americans is that they have no customs, or at least none that she can discern. Furthermore, the few custom-like activities they engage in are, in her assessment, simply demonic corruptions of Christian, English practices.
Rowlandson’s obsession with this demonic doubling produces some of the most fascinating passages in her narrative. At these moments her writing often slips into a proto-ethnographic mode. Thus, she exhaustively lists native foodstuffs, from “Hartychoaks” to “the very Bark of Trees” (105-6), and provides a detailed account of a ceremony performed by a “Powaw” (100-1). And yet, Rowlandson frames these passages in a way that dehumanizes the Native Americans, insisting that “many times they eat would that, that a Hog or a Dog would hardly touch” (105), and that emphasizes their lack of an independent culture, recasting the ceremony as a devilish reworking of Christian ritual practices organized by a Praying Indian and carried out on the Sabbath (99-101). The discourse of custom thus serves Rowlandson the ironic purpose of demonstrating that Native Americans lack a coherent body of customs.
As the last example suggests, the Praying Indians make a convenient target for Rowlandson, since their position between two cultures leaves them especially open to the charge of duplicity. Fittingly, then, much of Rowlandson’s vitriol is reserved for those passages where she provides lists of the unchristian behavior engaged in by Praying Indians, such as betraying their own family members, or wearing the fingers of other— English—Christians around their necks (98-99). These lists reinforce the kin-based logic of Rowlandson’s narrative, illustrating how she places those natives who seek to convert in an impossible double bind: in becoming Christian, they are cast as unfaithful to their families, which is unchristian; in being faithful to their families, they are pitted against other Christians, which is also unchristian.
Ultimately, Rowlandson’s text presents the continuum of family-kin-nation as a closed circle. Relations within that circle are characterized by a together-feeling—a “compassion”—that is undergirded by a set of social institutions and practices, such as living in houses, raising cattle, and marking the Sabbath in Christian worship. Those who try to breach that circle by adopting these institutions and practices, however, only serve to reinforce its integrity; thus the true identity of a “company of Indians … on horseback … dressed in English Apparel” is given away by their “foul looks,” so unlike the “lovely faces of Christians” (94). For Rowlandson, then, custom is a vital part of identity, but it is not in itself a sufficient ground for identity; to be Christian, or English, or a Friend, one must be all three at once.
“WITHOUT THINKING FROM WHENCE I CAME”Where Rowlandson’s narrative insists on the fixity and certainty of a Christian, English identity grounded in the integrity of the nuclear family, it also portrays the society that this identity underpins as under attack. Rowlandson’s implicit distinction between a strong communal identity and a threatened community performs much the same function as Mather’s toggling between personal and social frames of reference, goading the Puritan colonists to hew to orthodox social practices, yet this very function indicates that their communal identity is more fragile than Rowlandson is willing to admit. As with Mather’s unacknowledged acceptance that kin relations and international relations are inextricably linked, seeing Rowlandson’s uncertainty and doubt requires us not so much to read against the grain of the text as to attend to possibilities that it opens and then closes off.
At one particularly charged moment in her narrative the certainty of her communal identity seems to break down, leaving Rowlandson momentarily open to the possibility of
conversion to a Native American way of life:
And here I cannot but remember how many times sitting in their Wigwams, and musing on things past, I should suddenly leap up and out, as if I had been at home, forgetting where I was, and what my condition was: But when I was without, and saw nothing but Wilderness, and Woods, and a company of barbarous heathens: my mind quickly returned to me. (88) The complex temporal layering of this passage provokes as many questions as it answers.
In the narrated moment, Rowlandson seems to move from remembering her Puritan life, to forgetting that she is not among her Puritan “Friends and Relations” but rather sitting in a “Wigwam,” to finally remembering that she is in the “Wilderness.” At the moment of her narrating, these rememberings and forgettings are collapsed into a single act of remembering that evades part of the significance of Rowlandson’s temporary confusion, translating a momentary loss of mind into the continuous possession of a Christian English identity. And yet, these three movements do not quite line up with the logicotemporal shifts marked in the passage by the two colons, which remind us that Rowlandson’s remembering of her Puritan life is simultaneous with her forgetting that she is not in her Puritan life.
The moment of uncertainty is brief, and yet for that moment the wigwam is Rowlandson’s home. This passage thus suggests that Rowlandson’s abiding fear of social disintegration—embodied by the dismemberment of her family—is based as much on her half-acknowledged understanding that she could be “home” somewhere else, and so responsible herself for that disintegration, as it is based on her conviction that the Native Americans will attack again. The implication of this moment, then, is that the Christian, English identity Rowlandson constructs in her narrative is a far more fragile thing than she is willing to say explicitly. More than that, however, it illuminates why she and Mather seek to build such elaborate discursive barriers around it and, most particularly, to suggest that it is so entirely natural that cannot be acquired, even through the kind of religious and social conversion undertaken by the Praying Indians. This core of fragility is precisely what leads Rowlandson, as it later will Mather, to circle their symbolic wagons and produce a conception of Anglo-Puritan identity that fuses nation (underwritten by family and kin) and religion. By reconfiguring (and re-figuring) their identity on these grounds, and insisting on its exclusivity, Mather and Rowlandson hope to make it appear ontologically necessary and self-evident next to the increasingly slippery terrain of custom.
Pierre-Espirit Radisson’s captivity narrative illustrates, like Rowlandson’s, the truth of Ernest Renan’s observation that a nation is created as much by forgetting as it is by remembering (“Qu’est-ce qu’une nation?” 174, 194; “What is a Nation?” 11, 19). In Radisson’s narrative, however, remembering and forgetting are much more sudden and personal things than they are in Renan’s conception, and much less stable and containable than they are in Rowlandson’s. From moment to moment in his captivity narrative Radisson’s sense of self shifts as different factors come to the fore in his thoughts, and the way in which these factors influence his decisions remains incompletely intelligible even to himself as he narrates these events more than fifteen years after they occurred.
Yet, for all the reversals of Radisson’s text, there is one constant that holds not only in this early narrative, but also in those he would later write. While Radisson’s national allegiance is often in flux, the primary factor in determining that allegiance remains his understanding at that given moment of who his family is. Indeed, Radisson’s closest bond in the course of his life was to his brother-in-law, Médard Chouart des Groseilliers—brother-in-law, of course, being a form of adopted family relation based on alliance. Their bond was so close that one of the voyages which Radisson narrates in his first manuscript from a first person—and frequently first person plural—perspective, was in fact undertaken by his brother-in-law alone (see Germaine Warkentin “Styles” 24).
Radisson had been born in Paris in 1636, but during his peripatetic lifetime he bore allegiance to at least three different nations—France, England, and Iroquoia. This strange path was possible because, in 1651, Radisson made the voyage to New France, to settle with his step-mother and his half-sister in Trois-Rivières. Scarcely a year after his arrival, Radisson was captured by Iroquois warriors and adopted into a Mohawk family;
he would live with them for almost two years before escaping to Fort Orange and eventually returning to New France. After his return, Radisson and his brother-in-law made a series of illegal trading missions that ultimately attracted the attention of the Governor of New France and resulted in their move to Halifax, where a primarily French population lived under English rule. From Halifax the brothers traveled to New England and then to England where, from the mid-1660s until 1674 they played a vital role in the establishment of the Hudson’s Bay Company, making business connections with such prominent Londoners as Samuel Pepys. In the 1680s, Radisson briefly returned to France to try and further his career, but he ended up back in England by 1686 and remained there until his death in 1710.
During the course of his life, Radisson produced several manuscript accounts of his voyages—in both French and English. His first four voyages are recorded in a single, English-language manuscript in the Bodleian Library; two later voyages survive in multiple editions, including a special presentation copy that had been made for James II and which is housed in Windsor Castle. While all of these voyages speak to the dynamic transformations of Radisson’s identity, his captivity narrative, the first “voyage” recorded in the Bodleian manuscript, gives special insight into the fragility of national identity, showing us the difficulties encountered by someone who crosses from one nation into another, becoming, as Mather would have put it, “Indianized,” or, as we might, cosmopolitan. Rather than suppressing the dynamics of this crossing over, however, Radisson grants them a central place in his narrative, giving an explicit, if sometimes opaque, account of his shifting sense of self. That said, Radisson’s narrative, like Rowlandson’s, evinces the persistence of kinship as a means for understanding relations between nations. But Radisson struggles much more actively with how to define kinship for himself, grappling with the social, political, and even the commercial consequences of his various redefinitions of who counts as kin.
Radisson’s narrative begins much like Rowlandson’s, with the violent interruption of normal daily life. Radisson sets off with his friends one morning on a hunting excursion outside Trois Rivières. Briefly separated from his fellow hunters, he stumbles upon their mutilated bodies. Realizing they have been slain by Iroquois warriors, he tries to evade detection, but ends up being surrounded and captured by the Iroquois men, whom he describes—in words that could easily be Rowlandson’s or Mather’s—as “dogs, or rather devils” (3). After his initial capture, though, Radisson’s trajectory begins to differ from Rowlandson’s. Rather than being enslaved, he is adopted into a Mohawk family, taking the name of their deceased son, Ovinha. This adoption is hardly a singular event. As Roland Viau explains, captive war “était partie intégrante du rituel de deuil dans les sociétés iroquoiennes” (18), the aim of such wars being to take prisoners who could serve as suitable replacements for members of the community who had been lost.129 This practice would seem to be fundamentally at odds with the Hobbesian state of nature, invoked by Mather and evoked by Rowlandson’s narrative as well. War, for the Iroquois, becomes not a breakdown of relations, but rather a strategy for producing new ones. Yet, the tension between kinship and the state of nature drives Radisson’s captivity narrative as well. Since, as Gaunt recognizes, kinship relations emphasize the uniqueness and distinctness of particular groups of people, integration into a new kin group threatens to undermine one’s previous identity. Indeed, Radisson’s formal adoption ceremony actually seems to be an attempt to assuage the confusion produced by his captivity.
In the scene which leads to this adoption, Radisson begins by noting that he has a “troubled … mind” because he has “lived five weeks without thinking from whence I came.” The Mohawk woman who will become Radisson’s mother notices his distress and asks him “whether [he is] Asserony, a French.” Radisson insists that he is not French, but rather “Ganugaga, that is, of their nation” (11). Thus, in Radisson’s narrative, as in Rowlandson’s, kinship seems to function exclusively, demanding that one identify as a member of this group or that. Moreover, Radisson likewise presents kin relations as part of a continuum that extends from the nuclear family to the nation.