Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The narrative and language of the poem are based on another group of texts: historical “captivity narratives.” Erdrich explicitly directs the readers to consider the existence and meanings of the captivity narratives by quoting Mary Rowlandson’s narrative and providing basic information about her situation. Rowlandson was taken prisoner by the Wampanoag “when Lancaster, Massachusetts, was destroyed, in the year 1676.” In order to understand the poem’s themes fully, some knowledge of the historical circumstances is necessary. Rowlandson’s narrative has become one of the most well known of numerous published captivity stories, but it is by no means the only one. Frances Roe Kestler, in The Indian Captivity Narrative: A Woman’s View (1990), identifies approximately five hundred narratives, published in twelve hundred editions, during the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries. The narratives were written by men and women who were held captive by various tribes during the centuries of conflict between the European immigrants and the American Indians who lived in the areas where the Europeans settled.

According to Kestler, Rowlandson’s was the first narrative known to be composed by a woman. The experiences of and perceptions about women who were held captive differed from those of men because of the different cultural expectations regarding women, especially regarding sexuality. Rowlandson had immigrated to Salem with her father and later married Joseph Rowlandson, a minister. They had four children. The three children who survived infancy were taken captive, along with their mother, in February of 1676. The youngest child died during...

(The entire section is 688 words.)