Early american literature Reading and Discussion Questions Mary Rowlandson



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Early american literature

Reading and Discussion Questions




  1. Mary Rowlandson



  1. The theme of agency

    1. Does the narrator appear as victim or victor? Where does the text highlight submission to both God and her captors, and where does it allow a glimpse of Rowlandson as an active shaper of her fate?

    2. Consider the following statements and evaluate which seems to prove more true (at what point in the narrative):

      1. Mary fashions herself as a victimized, fallen woman, who regains her sense of devotional direction/faith by submitting to a trial of faith.

      2. Mary reveals herself as a tough, victorious survivor who adapts to her situation by using strategies of trade or even manipulation?

    3. How does the Puritan faith in predestination and the depravity of man determine her narrative? Especially, how does it inform and complicate her ability to interpret her own actions as well as the events beyond her control? Who is in charge here? Why is the title of the narrative The Sovereignty and Goodness of God…?



  1. The theme of identity/ethnicity/difference

    1. In how far does the narrative construct an “us” vs. “them” dichotomy between Native Americans and English Puritans? E.g., describe Rowlandson’s rhetoric in describing her Indian captors. Does it change or evolve throughout the text?

    2. More specifically, analyze Rowlandson’s portrayal of specific individuals among her captors, such as King Philip, her “master” (Quannopin) and her “mistress” (Weetamoo).

    3. In how far does Rowlandson acculturate (or even assimilate) into Native American culture? Where do you find instances of crossing borders (spatial, cultural, linguistic, culinary, etc.)? How does Rowlandson justify or interpret such moments?

    4. How does she strive to preserve her “Englishness”? What do literacy and faith have to do with it?



  1. The theme of gender

    1. What is the function of Increase Mather’s preface? How and why does it frame Rowlandson’s narrative? How does Rowlandson’s narrative itself respond to the strictures and expectations established in the preface?

    2. How does Rowlandson’s position as Puritan woman and mother influence/determine her captivity experience, as well as her ability to represent/narrate her experience?

    3. In what ways does her status in Indian society subvert her role as Puritan woman? Explain her strained relationship with Weetamoo!

    4. Think about Mary Rowlandson’s activities in trading with several of her captors, even her negotiations regarding her release and ransom. What is the relationship between captivity, gender, and economy here?



  1. The theme of religion/faith

    1. Puritan spiritual autobiographies/conversion narratives usually chronicle an inner journey from sin and faithlessness through several stages of conversion to a rebirth and regeneration. “Afflictions” serve as God’s tool to remind the individual of his/her sinful ways and forces the individual to realize that only complete submission to God’s “providence” can give assurance of salvation.

      1. Explain in how far Rowlandson’s narrative typifies the spiritual autobiography or conversion tale? How does she interpret afflictions?

    2. Does R. ever doubt God or his providences? What kind of evidence complicates the interpretation of her suffering as special dispensations from God? How do the survival and resilience of the Indians function in her interpretive framework?

    3. How do you interpret her inability rest or sleep after her captivity ends? Is her predicament cultural, religious, or psychological?



  1. Narrative Structure and Literary Technique

    1. The writer of the preface describes the text as a “Narrative of the wonderfully awful, wise, holy, powerful, and gracious providence of God, toward that worthy and precious Gentlewoman.” In what ways does this insistence on God’s dealings with the narrator pose a narrative problem?

    2. Analyze the relationship between spiritual reflection and the urge/need to tell the story!

    3. Where how does Rowlandson exceed the purpose of instruction. Where does it use dramatic elements, or techniques to create suspense, drama, and immediacy?



  1. Hannah Dustan

    1. Quite obviously, Dustan exemplifies a type of woman captor who takes matters into her own hands, vanquishing her opponents with violent means seemingly unbecoming of a Puritan woman. What kind of a narrative and character sketch does Cotton Mather create to insert her actions into a framework acceptable to Puritan society, religion and norms?

    2. Do you detect any fractures between Dustan’s heroics and Mather’s attempt to appropriate her for a specific message?

    3. Especially, how do you interpret the subtext he alludes to—the story of Jael and Sisera from the book of Judges, chapter 4-5? What, according to Mather, is the religious significance of her actions?

    4. Compare Dustan and Rowlandson as archetypes of American women!



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