45 Watch the Point of View

Jenna MacKinnon

The colonial encounter in Mary Rowlandon’s A Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson is depicted in stark contrast to the other three texts that we examined in class. In the narrative, Rowlandson is painted as victim of the Native Americans, while a close analysis of the three texts resulted in the opposite.

Rowlandson says that she is held captive and treated poorly throughout her time with the Native Americans. Separated from her family, she is wounded and receives little food or water. She clings to God and the words of the bible to get through the hardships as a coping mechanism. “God was with me in a wonderful manner, carrying me along, and bearing up my spirit, that it did not quite fail.” Rowlandson has no control or superiority over the Native Americans. Another contrasting aspect of this narrative is that it is told from a woman’s point of view, which is not seen in the other texts.

In the clip from Pocahontas, the European’s role in the colonial encounter is shown as a friendly, predestined savior sanctioned by nature. In the scene, John Smith assures Pocahontas of her safety with him, and offers his hand down to pull her out of her own canoe. Wind and feathers encircle them in a magical binding with the words “listen to your heart” sounding off and leading Pocahontas to understand and speak English. Pocahontas accepts and submits to the foreign culture happily. This has nothing in common with Rowlandson’s narrative.

In contrast, The Very Brief Relation of the Devastation of the Indies shows the Europeans as nothing but monsters in relation to the Native Americans. It details the grotesque “strange cruelties” they unleashed upon the native people to murder them in the form of genocide. For example, they rip babies from mothers and fling them into rivers.  On the other hand, The Relation of Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca is closer to Rowlandson’s narrative. Yet Cabeza de Vaca lives willingly alongside the Native people, while Rowlandson is a captive. Both parties merge with the Native Americans way of life, but Cabeza de Vaca’s is from an anthropological stance while Rowlandson’s is out of survival.

Rowlandson’s depiction of the colonial encounter is problematic because it erases the true horrors that the Native Americans experienced. If Rowlandson’s were the only text we read, we would overlook the other parts of the story. This is culturally relevant today because we often take one side of a story, primarily a white person’s, and run with it. Another name for this is a “single story.” For example, this country looks at a single story of the Muslim culture, labeling them all as terrorists. Rowlandson’s single story makes the Native Americans look barbaric when in reality they were the ones being hunted. 

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