The beautiful gift about literature is that authors always have a plan when writing. Whether it is the purpose of the piece, the targeted audience and even genre, everything is purposely planned out. Unfortunately, some writer’s plans do not always have noble intentions. During the Colonial period, many European settlers used writing as a way to seek fame or fortune. Because of this, determining the true purpose of certain texts from that time period becomes difficult. Mary Rowlandson’s “The Sovereignty and Goodness of God” is an example of this dilemma.
Rowlandson’s “Sovereignty and Goodness of God” accounts her experience as a captive after a group of Natives invade Lancaster and capture her and many other puritans. Rowlandson originally had “wrote the account for her private use, allowing it to be made public at the earnest desire of some friends, and for the benefit of the afflicted,” (Belasco, 215). However, some people believe that Rowlandson had the intentions of publishing her narrative in seek of fame. Her targeted audience, her being the main character in her own narrative, and how well written the “personal entry” was are all signs that point to her publishing this simply for fame.
After personally reading Rowlandson’s narrative, I too agree with those who say her purpose was for personal gain for multiple reasons: she makes herself seem like the best puritan of her time. It is as if she wants to be recognized as this divine soul who was directly touched by God. The reason why I believe this is because of how her narrative is set up. First, she is the narrative of her own story and secondly, she makes herself seem like a prophet. Basically, Rowlandson is the hero in her own story, told from only her perspective.
It is as clear to why Rowlandson makes herself seem like the most holy person in her narrative because her targeted audience is any and all puritans. She targets all puritans because in her narrative she is basically saying that all puritans who were killed was because they were sinful and she made it out of captivity solely out of her faith in God. In a sense, she is portraying herself like Jesus by her accounts of suffering in the name of man in order to truly understand the meaning of faith and the wrongdoings of the puritans.
The credibility of the accounts in her narrative are questioned because nobody else is around to rebuke it. So when she makes herself look divine, the question comes up as to whether or not those events actually happened. An example is when the pregnant woman “could find in her to run away.” Rowlandson tells her not to run away –to stay and put her faith in God, allowing him to save them. The woman does not listen and when she asks the Native Americans to run away, they hit her and her two-year-old daughter over the head and throw them in a pit of fire. The way Rowlandson recounted this event is like an “I told you so” moment which would only enhance her own puritan image; that if the woman had listened to her, God would have not stricken her and her child down.
After the account with the pregnant woman, it is as if Rowlandson is making herself look like God’s messenger. The sole purpose of the telling of that event was to only make it look like she knows God’s plan. Was this woman really killed? Did this event actually happen? There is no way of telling because Rowlandson is the only one who is around to tell the tale, which goes back to purpose. If her purpose truly is to send a message to all puritans then this event can be seen as a message to those who try to go against God’s will. On the other hand, if her purpose is simply for fame then this event simply is added to make Rowlandson look good.
Like other colonial settlers, I believe that some accounts of her captivity were falsified to buff up her story which was common during the colonial times. John Smith was a famous person who too made a narrative about his captivity during his expedition to the New World. Many historians have researched and found out that Smith’s claims to have been saved by princess Pocahontas was a lie. His purpose for creating this too-good-to-be-true story was to seek fortune because he was no longer allowed to travel back to the Americas. Like Smith, Rowlandson is being questioned because of the context in which she lived.
Going into her background, Rowlandson was a puritan woman who settled in Lancaster with a group of other puritans. This is important because puritans have a strict code to live by, limiting her freedom and power. It is ironic, but Rowlandson had more freedom as a captive than as a puritan in Lancaster. In her narrative, she says that “for the hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet.” This is counter-productive to her claim that she meant this only to help others. After tasting that freedom and power as a captive, why would she want to go back to Lancaster and have everything in her life dictated for her? As a captive, she had a purpose and was actually able to control some accounts in her life. Back home she fell into place with every other female puritan. For her, “it is hard to persuade myself, that ever I should be satisfied with bread again.” The bread is the simplicity of her lifestyle as a puritan. The best way for her to be of importance again is to write about her life in captivity and make herself stand out amongst the rest of the puritans.
This story is well written, almost too well written to be seen as a simple journal entry for Rowlandson’s personal use. Her narrative has a deeper purpose, as if it was written originally to be shared with the public and send a message to other puritans. The time period that she lives in also makes it harder to judge whether or not she was being sincere when she wrote this. Digging deeper into the puritan lifestyle will also help to better determine Rowlandson’s true motive behind her creating this narrative. She was also the first woman to have her book “published in the English colonies in North America,” (Belasco, 215).