This paper is aimed at reviewing the article, “Writing indigenous femininity: Mary Rowlandson’s narrative of captivity” by Tiffany Potter. The author is an English assistant professor at British Columbia University. This article was published in the eighteenth century studies journal in 2003. The author highlights Mary Rowlandson’s account of her life in captivity (Potter 153). Rowlandson is captured by the Red Indians during the King Phillip Lancaster war of February 1675. Metacom (King Phillip according to the European colonialists) was the leader of the Algonquian Red Indian tribes. Rowlandson is taken as a slave under Weetamoo, a victorious female leader. Weetamoo is a courageous warrior who leads her people into numerous conquests.
The author focuses on Rowlandson’s candid account of Indian feminine roles. Despite her slavery status, Rowlandson emerges as an obnoxious woman filled with self importance as she looks down on her mistress and other Indian women. She finds the women barbaric in their savage ways as they have not embraced Christianity. Rowlandson views her captors via her puritan Eurocentric perspective. Potter’s thesis dwells on Rowlandson’s patriarchal nature which majorly contributes to her harbored feelings of chauvinism towards her mistress. She fails to acknowledge Weetamoo as a leader and is very critical of her character which she finds laden with masculine tendencies (Potter 155).
According to Potter, Rowlandson unfairly subjects Red Indians to scrutiny by making reference to English standards. The Indians are savages and she is intolerant as she does not make any attempt to understand their culture. She adamantly holds to one absolute way of life and that is civilization. Her captives have truly fallen beyond the mark and she cannot find it in herself to acknowledge the Indian as worthy people. As compared to her female captors whom she is forced to serve, she deems herself far mush superior. Despite the circumstances, she is a society lady who has been well bred. Therefore decorum according to Puritan values distinguishes her greatly from her savage captors. Potter gives several examples that demonstrate Rowlandson’s chauvinistic nature thereby validating her thesis.
Rowlandson’s negative perception of Weetamoo is a good example. Throughout her narration Rowlandson deliberately fails to glorify Weetamoo as a courageous warrior. She even fails to refer to her as a leader and describes her as a ordinary woman who is a relation to King Phillip. Instead she views her attributes in a negative light as she constantly accuses Weetamoo of being unduly masculine. Again her patriarchal values are at play as a woman’s strong point should be her carative maternal character. This does not allow for women to assume the role of warriors! Right from the beginning Rowlandson opposed the Indian Matriarchal society that allowed for female leadership and even engagement of women in the military.
Quite interesting she has no qualms with her male captors. She describes them in glowing terms and it is not troublesome to serve the men. Again in accordance to patriarchal values, she is submissive towards the men and caters to them with utmost devotion. In response she receives favors and is described as being greatly appreciative. At some point Rowlandson even harbored romantic feelings towards her master Quinnapin. This is not entirely foreign as the discreet attraction of white women towards savage male Indians is reported in Native American historical literature. In fact it forms the basis of many romance novels with the Native American setting.
Unfortunately Weetamoo’s child dies and instead of showing sympathy, Rowlandson passes a harsh judgment over Weetamoo and blames her entirely for the demise. A mother is supposed to nurture her child and her entire life should be devoted towards her family. Weetamoo knowingly abdicated her maternal duties and this led to her child’s death. Her masculine aggression was not highly inappropriate for a mother expected to nurture her child. She goes ahead to criticize Weetamoo’s mourning which dismisses as an open display of cold indifference.
The author’s argument confirms the idealistic nature of European settlers in Indian dominated North America. It is a classic example of the manner in which the Red Indians were viewed and treated with repugnance. European settlers labeled the Native Americans as savages and consequently perceived them to be inferior. They took upon the ‘noble’ duty to civilize them and totally disregarded their religious practices. It goes against Christianity to discriminate against people on grounds of their faith. European settlers trampled over the Indians as they perceived them to be worthless heathens.
Generally Native Americans did not stand a chance against European superior weapons. However this article portrays a unique case of Native American triumph over Europeans. It is quite peculiar to have a European lady as a prisoner of war. Rowlandson was subjected to a life of servitude by the Red Indians. Generally the European settlers conquered and oppressed the Red Indians. In fact historical accounts describe the manner in which the Native American tribes were forced out of their rich productive territories into wastelands. It is hard to believe that they once dominated North America as they comprise one of the dwindling minority groups.
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Feminism is applauded in the Indian way of life. Arguments against feminism are always drawn from a cultural perspective which always points to traditional dominance of men over women. In this case we have a traditional cultural setting where women are seen to take a proactive role in leadership. This presents an ironical scenario as the so-called modern European society propagates patriarchy and male chauvinism. Conversely the ‘barbaric’ Indian nation succeeds in acknowledging and celebrating women leaders. Weetamoo proudly displays her wealth as a demonstration of her power as leader.
Rowlandson views it as a futile attempt of vain toilette. She abhors the very thought of a powerful female leader. Such displays are distasteful as they are totally unbecoming for a lady. Weetamoo emerges as a feminist role model when she courageously embraces her leadership role. She is an astute leader and her people thrive from her conquests. Weetamoo can also be described as a true embodiment of female courage and wisdom.
The author mainly portrays Rowlandson in a negative light as the readers only get to learn of her prejudice towards Red Indians. Given the circumstances Potter successfully steers the readers away from Rowlandson’s plight as a prisoner of war. She is emotionally destabilized and should not be subjected to rational judgment. It is unfair for Potter to criticize Rowlandson on her intolerance to Indian culture. It is impossible for a prisoner of war to view her captors in a positive light! Rowlandson is a broken woman as she has lost her family.
Moreover she has been forced into servitude and her captors are a constant reminder of the atrocities committed against her people. Potter should be considerate of all these factors before she boldly criticizes her for her prejudice towards Red Indians. In conclusion the author has succeeded in highlighting the main details of Rowlandson’s captivity. The readers get a glimpse of the Red Indian- European interaction and conflict.