59 Paint with All the Colors of Perspective

Toni O'Keefe

The depiction of the colonial encounter in Mary Rowlandson’s A Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson greatly contrasts with the texts we discussed in class on Thursday. Upon close analysis of this narrative it can be seen that Rowlandson is considered the victim of the Native Americans while the other texts paint the colonial encounter in a very different light.

Rowlandson describes an experience in which she is held captive. She is treated badly and without much regard for her or her child’s health while traveling with the Native Americans. She says that she has very little to hold on to due to being separated from her family. Rowlandson puts much of her energy into her belief and devotion to God for he is all that she has left: “but God was with me in a wonderful manner, carrying me along, and bearing up my spirit, that it did not quite fail.” Her experiences are quite different from those depicted in the other narratives we have analyzed. One major difference between them is not just the experience itself, but whose perspective it is from.

Based on the scene viewed in class on Thursday, Pocahontas is a very watered-down depiction of the colonial encounter in order to make way for the romantic relationship that is the main focus of the film. This encounter between John Smith and Pocahontas shows how oversimplified this portrayal of the colonial encounter really is. It creates an illusion that the colonization had a lot less of a negative impact on the Native Americans than what really took place. The Europeans’ role in this film is seen as friendly and inviting whereas the encounter depicted in Rowlandson’s narrative is far from friendly or inviting.

The Europeans in The Very Brief Relation of the Devastation of the Indies are depicted as monsters that have invaded the Native Americans’ lands. De Las Casas’ depiction of the colonial encounter describes the cruel and unusually ritualistic “acts of force and violence and oppression” (40). These acts quickly make the Native Americans realize that the Europeans are not the gods from the heavens as they had originally thought, according to the narrative. The experiences of the Native Americans described in this depiction of the colonial encounter do not have much in common with the narrative by Rowlandson.

The depiction of the colonial encounter in The Relation of Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca is the closest to the narrative of Mary Rowlandson. Both describe what living among the Native Americans included; Cabeza de Vaca’s experience seems much less atrocious than Rowlandson’s. One is merely for research while the other is out of survival.

Rowlandson’s depiction of the colonial encounter only shows one of the many perspectives of these events. If students were to read only this narrative they would develop a biased opinion about what actually took place. Providing various narratives that depict multiple perspectives on the topic of the colonial encounter not only allows students to see these events with a broader view, but also allows them to understand the perspectives of those involved.



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The Open Anthology of Earlier American Literature: A PSU-Based Project Copyright © 2016 by Toni O'Keefe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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