49 The Role of Religion in the Colonial Encounter

The most interesting thing about the reading to me was the role of religion, especially in regards to characterization and motivations. The main character often remarks in the beginning how alone she is, remarking that she had “no Christian friend near me”. She says immediately after, “Oh, I may see the wonderful power of God, that my Spirit did not utterly sink under my affliction: still the Lord upheld me with His gracious and merciful spirit, and we were both alive to see the light of the next morning. “She mentions often how the Lord lifted her up, and that the only reason she moves forward is the power of God.

This emphasis reminds me of the last reading we did last week, by Cabeza de Vaca, where God’s will be always obvious to the main character. It is also somewhat related to the work by Casas, where at one point the colonists say, “boil there, you spawn of the Devil”, implying a religious motive to the genocide. Religion, specifically Christianity, is intrinsically important to the colonists. This also separates them from the natives, creating an “us” vs. “them” atmosphere that goes beyond physical attributes. Non-Christians are “Other”, something to be feared and distrusted.

The tone of the work is hopeful, which is disorienting because of the plot. Mrs. Rowlandson is constantly saying how she has hope through God, and that he gives her strength. Her descriptions of the natives is a mix of Casas and De Vaca. She calls them “inhumane creatures” (subconsciously saying that they are not human, and not deserving of human compassion), and yet does not focus on brutality and viciousness like Casas. The tone of the work and observation of the natives is reminiscent of De Vaca. The problem of this reading is how subjective is she as a narrator telling the audience her story of captivity? She seems to favor the middle road in regards to depictions of the natives, does this mean that her words can be trusted as the 100% truth?

The idea of not respecting another person because of a difference in religious belief is incredibly relevant today, where Christians and Muslims are fighting one another and both sides discriminate freely against one another. We still treat people who disagree with us, or look different or believe something different, as an “Other”, something that doesn’t deserve respect. While the horrid events in Casas’ work no longer apply to most interactions between different groups of people, Rowlandson’s work shows that the undertones of discrimination and negativity that was found in those times is still relevant to this day. We are still wary of others, we still flock to those who look, act and think like us.

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The Open Anthology of Earlier American Literature: A PSU-Based Project by Robin DeRosa and Abby Goode is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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