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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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3. Utopian Promise   

3. Utopian

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Activities: Author Activities

Mary Rowlandson - Teaching Tips

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  • When Rowlandson's Narrative was first published in 1682, it was printed with a "Preface" written by the influential Puritan minister Increase Mather, and with a sermon composed by her husband, Joseph Rowlandson. Some scholars have speculated that Joseph Rowlandson and Mather were also extensively involved in the production of the Narrative itself; the frequency and aptness of biblical quotations in the text might indicate the hand of an experienced cleric. After providing students with this background information, ask for their opinions on whether or not (or to what extent) Rowlandson was mediated and guided by Puritan authorities when composing this text. Ask them to offer specific textual evidence to back up their speculations. You might point students toward the numerous biblical quotations and toward Rowlandson's explanations of how she accessed and derived comfort from these particular lines of scripture.

  • Rowlandson opens her Narrative with totalizing, dehumanizing descriptions of Native Americans as "hell-hounds," "ravenous beasts," and "barbarous creatures." As the text progresses, however, she seems to become more willing to see her captors as individuals, and even as people capable of humanity and charity. Ask students to analyze her portraits of individual Indians and to trace the evolution of her attitude toward Indians in general. Which Native Americans come in for the most criticism? Which does she view more positively? What might motivate her varying assessments? How might changes in Rowlandson's own status within the Wampanoag encampment influence her attitude toward individual Indians? You might point students toward her discussions of the various Native Americans who engage in economic transactions with her or give her food, her quite positive portrait of Metacom (or "Philip," as she calls him), and her bitter description of Weetamoo, a Wampanoag "squawsachem," or female leader.

  • Students may want to compare Rowlandson's description of Weetamoo to Benjamin Church's description of other Wampanoag squawsachems in his Entertaining Passages Relating to Philip's War. How does each text portray these Native American female leaders?

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