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Women's History Perspective

Women Captives and Indian Captivity Narratives

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Women's History Questions on Captivity Narratives

How can the field of women's history use the Indian captivity narratives to understand women's lives? Here are some productive questions:

  • Sort out fact from fiction in them. How much is influenced unconsciously by cultural assumptions and expectations? How much is sensationalized for the sake of making the book more salable, or better political propaganda?
  • Examine how the views of women (and Indians) are influenced by the culture of the time.  What was the "political correctness" of the time (standard themes and attitudes that needed to be included in order to be acceptable to audiences)? What do the assumptions that shaped the exaggerations or understatements say about the experience of women in that time?
  • Look at the relationship of women's experience to the historical context. For example, to understand King Phillip's War, the story of Mary Rowlandson is important -- and vice versa, for her story means less if we don't understand the context in which it took place and was written. What events in history made it important that this captivity narrative be published? What events influenced the actions of the settlers and the Indians?
  • Look at ways in which women did surprising things in the books, or told surprising stories about the Native Americans. How much was a narrative a challenge to assumptions and stereotypes, and how much a reinforcement of them?
  • How were gender roles different in the different cultures depicted?  What was the effect on the lives of women of these different roles -- how did they spend their time, what influence did they have on events?

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