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How do the Wife of Bath and Mary Rowlandson discuss the Bible in their respective narratives?

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Both Mary Rowlandson and the Wife of Bath use the Bible for support, though the nature of this support is different for each woman. The Puritan Mary uses it to find hope and courage during her captivity, while the more worldly Wife uses it to provide argumentative support for her behavior when it is challenged.

In her captivity narrative, Mary finds comfort in the Bible. One of the natives asks her if she would like to have a copy of the Bible, and she accepts it gladly. At this point, Mary is despairing, exhausted, and believes God has forsaken her. However, she reads chapters from Deuteronomy, and then her attitude changes:

So I took the Bible, and in that melancholy time, it came into my mind to read first the 28th chapter of Deuteronomy, which I did, and when I had read it, my dark heart wrought on this manner: that there was no mercy for me, that the blessings were gone, and the curses come in their room, and that I had lost my opportunity. But the Lord helped me still to go on reading till I came to Chap. 30, the seven first verses, where I found, there was mercy promised again, if we would return to Him by repentance; and though we were scattered from one end of the earth to the other, yet the Lord would gather us together, and turn all those curses upon our enemies. I do not desire to live to forget this Scripture, and what comfort it was to me.

The Psalms also inspire Mary to take courage and rely on God's mercy. For her, the Bible is a sign from God for her to endure this experience without complaint or loss of hope in divine grace.

The Wife of Bath's relationship to the Bible and religion in general are less conventional than the pious Mary Rowlandson's. The Wife of Bath dresses richly, has been married several times, and delights in earthly love, behavior that was generally looked down upon by the church authorities of the period. However, the Wife uses Scripture to her advantage: for example, she claims that it is okay for her to marry many times because in the Book of Genesis, God demands that humans be fruitful and multiply. This is in opposition to those who have told her that people should only be expected to marry once because Jesus is only described as visiting one wedding in the Gospels. She is using the same exact technique as her opponents.

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How do the characters The Wife of Bath in the prologue of "The Wife of Bath's Tale" and Mary Rowlandson in A Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson reveal their personalities through the genre in which they tell their stories, their sense of audience, the tone in which they speak, and the vocabulary they use?

These are two fascinating characters to compare because the elements listed—genre, sense of audience, tone, and vocabulary—have such a profound impact on how they portray themselves and how we come to understand them as characters.

The Wife of Bath's Prologue takes the form of a confessional—a popular form of literature in Chaucer's time in which the narrator confesses to their faults and announces an intention to live a better life from that point on.

Confessionals often quoted authorities like the Bible or various Greek thinkers. They typically had a somber tone and a serious, formal vocabulary. The narrator was typically quite aware that their audience would judge them poorly for their actions and sought patience and mercy from the audience as they spoke.

The Wife of Bath reveals her personality by using the confessional form but turning it on its head. She cites the Bible and Ptolemy to support her position, but her choice of Bible passages actually undermine her argument, and her quote from Ptolemy doesn't actually exist. Her tone is mocking and jolly throughout, with a coarse vocabulary full of sex puns. She doesn't seem to care much what other people think of her; she makes it clear that others' opinions will not have any effect on her behavior.

By Mary Rowlandson's time, the confessional had largely lost its popularity, but a related form—the tribulation narrative—had arisen. In these narratives, the narrator relates how they went through some type of ordeal. They recount specific events in a serious tone: While they might describe the narrator's emotions in the moment, the narrator tends to maintain some distance from those emotions, talking "about" them rather than displaying them. Their goal is to educate the audience and to offer themselves as an example of courage, fortitude, and faith in the face of adversity.

Mary Rowlandson reveals her personality by sticking to these qualities. She tells the story of how she was kidnapped by the Naragansett and lived among them for some time. She gives detailed accounts of specific scenes, and to demonstrate her courage and faith, she specifically describes moments in which she turned to the Bible or recited Scripture to herself or others for comfort.

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