Relationality and the Autobiographical “I” in Mary Rowlandson

On relationality in autobiographical acts, Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson in Reading Autobiography write, “This concept of relationality, implying that one’s story is bound up in that of another, suggests that the boundaries of an ‘I’ are often shifting and permeable.” With this definition in mind, the autobiographical “I” of Mary Rowlandson can be seen through the relationality between her absent God, her ideological “I”, and the present Indians, her historical “I”.  These two forces often come into conflict, her Puritan sensibilities leading one way but the Indians leading her another.  And often, despite the trend of strong ideological “I”‘s in Puritan autobiography, her historical “I” wins the battle.

This creates an interesting dynamic, where both she and the Indians are damned by her God, but somehow the Indians are more damned. By her own logic, Mary Rowlandson is put in a compromising position where she becomes responsible for the sins of the Indians. As she travels with them, her historical “I” becomes synonymous with the Indians, and so their election under God and their sins become hers. For instance, the Indians force Rowlandson to sin by breaking the Sabbath, “when the Sabbath came they bade me go to work, I…desired them to let me rest…to which they answered me, they would break my face.” Rowlandson is forced into sin by the Indians. Her ideological “I” tells her to not to break the Sabbath but her historical “I”, the Indians, force her to.

It almost seems like she resents the Indians less for kidnapping her, but more for forcing her into sin against the Lord. Her daughter’s death, for example, is very descriptive- the gunshot wound, the constant mistreatment from the Indians- that it reads almost like a defense. As if Rowlandson is proving to the reader or to God that she is not responsible for her daughter’s death, when that is the obvious conclusion. So why the defense? Because Rowlandson, through her Puritan God, blames herself for her daughters death, but not in the sense that she feels responsible, but in the sense that the Indians provided a cause and now she has deal with the effect.  For the time that she was held captive, she becomes part of the Indians historical context, and despite her relative innocence in her daughter’s death, her historical “I” has killed her daughter.

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