How are Mary Rowlandson's A Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson and Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl similar and how are they different?
Mary Rowlandson's A Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration is a captivity narrative. Harriet Jacobs's Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl is a slave narrative. While they are considered distinctive genres, they share some characteristics.
The two books, though belonging to different genres and literary periods, the colonial era for Rowlandson's captivity narrative, the nineteenth century on the eve of the American civil war for Jacobs's slave narrative. The conventions of the captivity narrative genre, however, would play an important part in the shaping of the slave narratives. So both books share important themes as well as questions as to the authenticity of their authorial voice.
Both Rowlandson and Jacobs dealt with themes such as the victimization of women and the disruption of families whether at the hands of Native Americans or due to the inhuman institution of slavery. Rowlandson stressed repeatedly her role as a mother, while Jacobs felt "a pang that my children had no lawful claim to a name". In addition, both focused on the role of religion in relieving suffering and showed how the plight of their heroines was instrumental in celebrating God's glory and their freedom was the result of a higher, spiritual level abd a providential design. Compare, as an example, Rowlandson's idea that
we must rely on God Himself, and our dependence must be upon Him . . . I have learnt to look beyond present and smaller troubles and to be quieter under them. As Moses said, 'Stand still and see the salvation of the Lord'
with Jacobs's persuasion that it was thanks to God that her premature baby survived. Jacobs also used Christianity in opposition to slavery arguing that
There is a great difference between Christianity and religion at the south. If a man goes to the communion table, and pays money into the treasury of the church, no matter if it be the price of blood, he is called religious.
Both narratives have sparked critical debates regarding the role of their editors, the Puritan theologian Increase Mather and the white abolitionist Lydia Marie Child respectively, in shaping the two books and possibly altering the original versions of the stories.