English department, Univ. of Arkansas at Little Rock
Tucson Presentation on John Williams, The Redeemed Captive Returning to Zion (1707)
COUNTER-CONQUESTS AND CAPTIVITIES PANEL
When I was in graduate school in the mid-1970s, the canon of Indian captivity narratives was much smaller than it is now and the generic focus lay on Puritan texts, particularly on two captivity narratives that were usually studied together: Mary Rowlandson’s The Sovereignty and Goodness of God (1682, titled A True History for its London edition), and John Williams’ The Redeemed Captive Returning to Zion (1707). But since then, a dramatic discrepancy has arisen in the amount of attention that each text receives. With regard to teaching, the current college anthologies typically contain much of Rowlandson’s text but only a few pages of Williams’—this is true for the 4th edition of The Heath Anthology (ed. Paul Lauter, 2002) and Early American Writings (ed. Carla Mulford, 2001). The latest edition of The Norton Anthology (ed. Nina Baym, 1998) includes the whole of Rowlandson but excludes Williams altogether. Only The Literatures of Colonial America (ed. Susan Castillo and Ivy Schweitzer, 2000) rejects both texts. As far as scholarship is concerned, a recent search of the MLA Bibliography on-line (1963 to present) yielded fifty-five entries for Rowlandson, including articles in Japanese, Italian, and German journals, but only five for Williams (though there is one important omission which I’ll mention later). A complete list of Williams references is appended, but the total—excluding books with only scattered references—is still just six .
In the little time available, I’d like to touch on three questions: 1) What might explain this incredible shift in pedagogical/critical consideration away from Williams’ narrative (and towards Rowlandson’s)? 2) Once canonized but then effectively demoted, does the Williams text contain aesthetic and cultural value that warrants its recovery within the corpus of captivity literature? And 3) Which areas seem particularly significant for teaching The Redeemed Captive?
Gordon M. Sayre, editor of the anthology American Captivity Narratives (2000), doesn’t include Williams at all but privileges Rowlandson in a section titled “The Foundational Narrative of Mary Rowlandson.” In several of my own publications, I have privileged Rowlandson too. Is this justified? Well, sort of (I think there’s a parallel to the status of Harriet Jacobs’ Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl compared to other slave narratives because it suggests similar questions of warranted and unwarranted privilege). I do think that The Sovereignty and Goodness of God is a more complex and ambiguous text than The Redeemed Captive, and it raises other important issues only some of which are present in Williams: editorial mediation; history of the book (it was the first full-length captivity narrative in English to be published as a separate book); the woman writer and her text in early American culture; psychological responses to pain, war, and grief; religious doubt; generic complexity, “literariness”; and cultural interactions between and constructions of Europeans and Native Americans. Here’s the crucial question: if you can pick only one Puritan account to teach, which of the two will it be?
In the last decade, many scholars have been responsible for the particular interest in women’s captivity narratives. Although a number of recent book-length studies use both men’s and women’s texts, I think it’s time for a more sustained re-examination of the men’s texts within the context of men’s studies. The Redeemed Captive would provide an entrée into renewed interest in that larger field. Here are some other important areas concerning this text: 1)
It contains (some) aesthetic value, for example in its direct and moving articulation of grief; 2) Applying information in the latest volume of EAL devoted to interiority, I think that Williams’ text provides significant insights into early American interiority; 3) Structurally, the text divides into two major parts: the Indian attack and captivity and the physical and spiritual confinements in Canada. More specifically, after the initial attack, the text is interesting in its division by place (“At Shamblee,” “At Montreal,” “At Quebeck,” etc.) and its focus on particular trials in each place (e.g. “At Montreal” focuses on Williams’ attempts to re-establish contact with and control over his daughter Eunice).
Significant areas for teaching Williams
Secondary Material on John Williams’ The Redeemed Captive Returning to Zion (1707)
Baum, Rosalie Murphy. “John Williams’s Captivity Narrative: A Consideration of
Normative Ethnicity.” In Frank Shuffelton, A Mixed Race: Ethnicity in Early
America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993. 56-76.
Castiglia, Christopher. Bound and Determined: Captivity, Culture-Crossing, and White
Womanhood from Mary Rowlandson to Patty Hearst. Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 1996. [Scattered references]
Clark, Edward W. “A Modernized Text and a Critical Text of John Williams’ The
Redeemed Captive Returning to Zion.” Diss. Wisconsin 1973.
Demos, John. The Unredeemed Captive: A Family Story from Early America. 1994. New
York: Knopf, 1995.
Derounian-Stodola, Kathryn Zabelle, and James A. Levernier. The Indian Captivity
Narrative, 1550-1900. New York: Twayne, 1993. [Scattered references]
Ebersole, Gary. Captured by Texts: Puritan to Post-Modern Images of Indian Captivity.
Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1995. [Scattered references]
Haefeli, Evan, and Kevin Sweeney. “Revisiting the Redeemed Captive: New
Perspectives on the 1704 Attack on Deerfield.” The William and Mary Quarterly
52 (1995): 3-46.
Loreto, Paola, ed. and tr. Ritorno a Sion: Un Pastore Puritano tra i Pellerossa. Bergamo:
Pierluigi Lubrina, 1992. [Italian edition of The Redeemed Captive]
Medlicott, Alexander. “’For the Instruction of the Young’: The Deerfield Captivity Narratives.”
Children’s Literature (An Annual of the MLA Division on Children’s Literature) 12 (1984): 25-46.
Namias, June. White Captives: Gender and Ethnicity on the American Frontier. Chapel
Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1993. [Scattered references]
Strong, Pauline Turner. Captive Selves, Captivating Others: The Politics and Poetics of Colonial
American Captivity Narratives. Boulder, Colorado: Westview, 1999. [Scattered references]