Hope Leslie

Captivity Narrative

Even though the Indians and the Puritans enjoyed many years of peace, fights over land rights between the whites and the Indians and among different groups of settlers became more common by the 1670s. These disputes were made worse by the deaths of John Bradford and Chief Massasoit. When the settlers captured the Wampanoag chief, Wamsutta, in order to make him give up more land, the chief fell ill and died while in captivity. Although Wamsutta's brother, the new chief Metacom (Philip), agreed to the demands, fighting broke out after the Indians were accused of murdering a converted Indian, John Sassamon. American Literature includes the Indian captivity narrative. In these stories, women are usually kidnapped and held captive by American Indians. The women who are taken captive are white women and of European descent. These captivity narratives help define what a "proper woman" should be and do. Women in these narratives are not treated as women "should" be—they often see the violent deaths of husbands, brothers and children. The women are unable to fill "normal" women's roles, are unable to protect their own children, are unable to dress neatly and cleanly or in the "proper" garments, and are unable to restrict their sexual activity to marriage to the "appropriate" kind of man. They are forced into roles that are not common for women, including violence in their own defense or that of children, physical challenges such as long journeys by foot and manipulation of their captors. The fact that they write stories about their lives is stepping outside "normal" women's behavior! The captivity stories used stereotypes of Indians and settlers, and were part of the ongoing conflict between these groups as the settlers moved westward. In a society in which men are expected to be the protectors of women, the kidnapping of women is viewed as a challenge to the males in the society. The stories serve as a call for retaliation and caution in dealing with these "dangerous" natives. Sometimes the narratives also challenge the racial stereotypes. By depicting the captors as individuals, and as people who also face troubles and challenges, the captors are also made more human. In either case, the Indian captive narratives serve a directly political purpose, and can be seen as a kind of political propaganda.


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