The Sovereignty and Goodness of God
Analysis of Major Characters
The protagonist and narrator of The Sovereignty and Goodness of God is a middle-aged wife and mother of three children. Though she was born in England, she has lived in the American colonies for nearly four decades and has lived in the frontier settlement of Lancaster for more than twenty years. Married to a minister, she is pious, and her Christian faith, like that of other Puritans, plays a central role in her life. Rowlandson believes God plays an active role in people’s lives, showing his grace in the form of safety and well-being and expressing his disapproval by plaguing people with misfortunes or tragedy. When confronted with a disastrous Indian attack, Rowlandson questions her conception of herself and her society. She is certain that such an attack must have happened for a reason, and, taken captive and unsure if she will survive, she seeks to uncover that reason.
In her search for understanding, she turns to Christianity and finds meaning and comfort in the Bible. Like other Puritans, she projects the struggles that occur in the Bible and in her own psyche onto the landscape around her. America often seems to be a new Eden, but the landscape and its native inhabitants also seem connected to hell and the devil. Rowlandson casts herself alternately as Job (whose suffering is a test of his faith) and as one of the Israelites fated to wander in the wilderness (whose trials are brought upon them as punishment for their own failings). Rowlandson has a great fear of devolving to savagery—of “backsliding” religiously and socially—a fear that appears in other Puritan writings as well.
The leader of the Wampanoags, known as King Philip by the British, plays a large but ambiguous role in Mary Rowlandson’s narrative. Though as a leader he has power and status, Philip often seems removed from the politics and violence of his people and seems distant even from the war that bears his name. When he first meets Rowlandson, he is courteous, offering her some of his tobacco in a gesture of friendship. Far from being a demanding ruler with a sense of entitlement, Philip engages Rowlandson in his culture on an economic level by offering her money or food for her services as a seamstress. This exchange, however small it may be, suggests Philip’s decency and humanity. Rowlandson may be a captive of his tribe, but she is still a person, and she is not a slave.
Despite this basic decency and kindness, Philip does not set Rowlandson free, though as a leader, he might have had the power to do so. When the General Court of the Indians meets to discuss freeing her, Philip refuses to attend, prolonging Rowlandson’s captivity through his petty, immature action. He offers Rowlandson her freedom in exchange for clothing, money, and food, but Rowlandson distrusts him, fearing he’ll go back on his word. This mention of Philip’s possibly false offer, and his childish sulking, is the last Rowlandson says of him in her story.
One of Quannopin’s three wives, Wettimore is one of the Indians with whom Rowlandson has the most contact. Unfortunately for Rowlandson, Wettimore is proud and vain, with a strong streak of cruelty. Wettimore’s greatest concerns are image and status. She sometimes does not feed Rowlandson well or let her warm herself by the fire, but she complains that she and Quannopin look bad when Rowlandson begs for food or a warm place to sleep at other wigwams. Wettimore is angered by Rowlandson’s faith and piety and her ability to find comfort in the Bible. When Wettimore’s child has died and she returns from its burial to find Rowlandson reading the Bible, she is enraged and throws her Bible to the ground. Wettimore’s short-temperedness appears at other times as well. On the same day, she slaps Rowlandson across the face and tells her to get out of her sight. Though both Rowlandson and Wettimore have lost young children, this does not become a point of sympathy or bonding for them.
Rowlandson casts Wettimore as something of a foil of herself: the two are opposites, and by listing Wettimore’s bad qualities, Rowlandson subtly emphasizes her own positive traits. When describing Wettimore’s daily routine, Rowlandson compares her to wealthy white nobles: Wettimore spends as much time arranging her hair, clothing, and jewelry as the richest of the settlers. Her shallowness shows that savagery and violence are not the Indians’ only negative qualities—vanity in such rugged conditions is ridiculous. Wettimore’s values are opposite to those Christian values that Rowlandson espouses. While Rowlandson learns that worldly treasures have little use or meaning, Wettimore focuses on the superficial trappings of clothing and status.
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