Please discuss gender in Rowlandson's text entitled "The Sovereignty and Goodness of God."    

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Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"The Sovereignty and Goodness of God" was written by Mary Rowlandson after she was taken captive in an Indian attack. The first draft of the work was private; later she ammended and published it so she could demonstrate God's sovereignty and goodness even during her harrowing ordeal. This writing is less about gender than it is about the trials of living through a difficult ordeal; however, it is the Indians' treatment of Rowlandson which provides a more interesting discussion of gender in this writing.

Most of the people the Indians took captive in these kinds of raids were women and children, partly because the men generally died fighting to save their loved ones and partly because men were more difficult prisoners. That does not mean, however, that the women and children were treated with the kindness and generosity which most cultures afford them.

During the first night of her "grievous activity," the tribe camps near a deserted farmhouse; Rowlandson's request to sleep inside is derisively denied and she has to sleep outside. The next day, after she walked until she was exhausted, Rowlandson writes that

they set me upon a horse with my wounded child in my lap, and there being no furniture upon the horse's back, as we were going down a steep hill we both fell over the horse's head, at which they, like inhumane creatures, laughed, and rejoiced to see it.

Her child is sick, and Rowlandson listens to her crying and moaning all day without relief;  instead of offering her help or relief, "sometimes one Indian would come and tell me one hour that 'your master will knock your child in the head,' and then a second, and then a third, 'your master will quickly knock your child in the head.'" This continues for nine days.

Later in her captivity, Rowlandson is allowed to go visit her son who was also taken captive, but she is not allowed to stay with him. She despises the food her captors eat; knowing this, they often deliberately give her the foods she despises the most. They tell her that her husband has been killed (which is not true); when they travel, she must wear a pack which is too heavy for her and is given virtually nothing to eat.

The women of the tribe are particularly cruel and treat her maliciously at every opportunity. They routinely deny her food and kick her out of their tepees. One even throws ashes in Rowlandson's eyes in anger. This is an interesting phenomenon which might be explained by jealousy except that none of the Indian men made any physical overtures to Rowlandson. A case might be made that the Indian women, who are also treated rather poorly by their men, take advantage of the opportunity to mistreat someone even lower in rank than they are.

These are all examples of the disregard her captors have for Rowlandson; her gender is meaningless to them in terms of their attitude and treatment toward her. The balance of power does shift a bit, however, when her captives need her to do some sewing fine sewing for them. She does the work in exchange for money or food, and in those exchanges she has the power. In every other kind of exchange during her captivity, she is powerless and at the mercy of her captors. 

In short, Rowlandson makes it clear that, while she was a captive, her gender gained her no benefits from the men, and she was often treated worse by the women because of her gender.