Captive America: Smart, Rowlandson and the Colonial Sentiment

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Shannon D Luders-Manuel


In 1682, Mary Rowlandson published The Sovereignty and Goodness of God, which documented her kidnapping by neighboring Native Americans in New England. Over three centuries later in 2003, Ed and Lois Smart published their own captivity narrative about the kidnapping of their daughter Elizabeth Smart in Salt Lake City by a homeless religious zealot. Both Rowlandson and Elizabeth are high profile, white churchgoing women who become iconographically tied to their communities following their abductions and escapes. While the events in each of these narratives occur at widely different times in history, they both encapsulate the same rhetorical tools and are presented for largely the same reasons. The reason I will be addressing in this paper is that of bringing their communities together against a common foe.

Rowlandson’s book and Bringing Elizabeth Home are both narratives which foster colonialism and American sentiment through the construction of the “other.” For Rowlandson, this other was the Native American. With the extraction and return of Rowlandson as a matriarchal figure, the Puritans as family closed ranks against those who threatened to break the familial bond. This collective self represents Good, and the wild other represents Evil. Her narrative is a didactic tool to help the collective self embrace the Good. For Ed Smart, as a member of the politically correct 21st century, the other is not quite as easy to define. However, he also states the importance of family and community unity, and sees his daughter’s kidnapping as a reason to support the current war in Iraq. He also sees his daughter as not only his child, but America’s, and therefore a symbol that all of America must work to protect. Speaking of their book, Ed and his wife write: “It is a journey of hope and faith, an odyssey filled with good and evil, shadow and light. It is a story we hope people will still be talking about one hundred years from now—not because it is about our daughter, but because it is a story about all of us. It is a remarkable saga of a community and a country banding together in collective prayer and coming together with a common goal: to bring Elizabeth home” (15).

These two narratives, which represent the prototype and one of the latest offsprings of the literary genre, show the rhetorical impact of the captivity narrative in creating a real life heroine who is at the mercy of an other, but who ultimately prevails due to her inner strength and that of her community. This us and other must exist in order to foster colonialism, and the forced travel of these vulnerable women is the perfect tale of tragedy and triumph for the continued suppression of those whom we deem the evil to our good, the shadow to our light.

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How to Cite
Luders-Manuel, S. D. (2010). Captive America: Smart, Rowlandson and the Colonial Sentiment. AmeriQuests, 7(1).
Author Biography

Shannon D Luders-Manuel, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Shannon Luders-Manuel is pursuing her Master's in English Literature at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.