Captivity Narratives Criticism: Overviews - Essay

Roy Harvey Pearce (essay date 1947-48)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Pearce, Roy Harvey. “The Significances of the Captivity Narrative.” American Literature 19 (1947-48): 1-20.

[In the following essay, Pearce examines the evolution of the style and intent of captivity narratives, from religious confessional to pulp thriller, and argues that they provide a window into American popular culture.]

The narrative of Indian captivity has long been recognized for its usefulness in the study of our history and, moreover, has even achieved a kind of literary status. Generally it has been taken as a sort of “saga,” something which somehow is to be understood as expressive of the Frontier Mind—whatever that may be.1 But...

(The entire section is 8157 words.)

Richard Vanderbeets (essay date 1972)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Vanderbeets, Richard. “The Indian Captivity Narrative as Ritual.” American Literature 43, no. 4 (January 1972): 548-62.

[In the essay below, Vanderbeets urges readers to view captivity narratives as a unified genre built upon common rituals.]

All civilized peoples have recognized the value of tempering their joys with a play or story chronicling the misfortunes and tragedies of others. Because the earliest Americans countenanced neither play-acting nor the unhealthy influences of the novel, they wrote and read true tales of tragedy and horror in the form of disasters, plagues, and shipwrecks—and of Indian massacres and captivities. As the frontier pushed...

(The entire section is 6145 words.)

David L. Minter (essay date 1973)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Minter, David L. “By Dens of Lions: Notes on Stylization in Early Puritan Captivity Narratives.” American Literature 45, no. 3 (November 1973): 335-47.

[In the following essay, Minter considers changes in the purpose and tone of captivity narratives over time, particularly focusing on the narrative of Mary Rowlandson.]

The “Indian Captivities” of the New England Puritans were, during the first several years of their existence, deeply devout. Born as they were, however, in the late seventeenth century, in what was for the Puritan way an era of fundamental transformation, the captivity narratives soon changed drastically. First, they became instruments of...

(The entire section is 5232 words.)

June Namias (essay date 1993)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Namias, June. “White Men Held Captive.” In White Captives: Gender and Ethnicity on the American Frontier, pp. 49-83. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1993.

[In the following excerpt, Namias explores the changing images of males in captivity narratives from 1608 through the nineteenth century.]

In the first and most famous captive story of an Englishman on the North American continent, Captain John Smith spent a month among the native people of tidewater Virginia. Admitting to some difficulties, Smith wrote of his experiences: “Yet hee so demeaned himselfe amongst them, as he not only diverted them from surprising the Fort: but procured...

(The entire section is 13732 words.)