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The Sovereignty and Goodness of God

Mary Rowlandson

Important Quotations Explained

Themes, Motifs, and Symbols

Key Facts

1. It was a solemn sight to see so many Christians lying in their blood, some here and some there, like a company of sheep torn by wolves.

Rowlandson uses these words in the opening section of her narrative when she describes the chaos and devastation of the Indian attack on Lancaster. In one sentence, she conveys the gravity and seriousness of the situation. More important, however, is the simile Rowlandson chooses to describe the scene. In Christian imagery, Jesus is traditionally compared to a shepherd, and his followers are a flock of innocent sheep. By drawing from this imagery, Rowlandson situates her narrative in a biblical framework. By then comparing the Indians to wolves, Rowlandson introduces opposition and dichotomy into her text. The Puritans are innocent, civilized, and domesticated, while the Indians are wild animals.

2. Yet the Lord still shewed mercy to me, and helped me; and as he wounded me with one hand, so he healed me with the other.

As she narrates the story of the Third Remove, Rowlandson uses these words to refer to her immediate situation. She is wounded and captive, but she has just met Robert Pepper, another captive, who teaches her to use oak leaves to cure her wound. This passage summarizes Rowlandson’s entire time in captivity and also encapsulates the broader Puritan worldview. Here, Rowlandson expresses a belief in the centrality of God’s will: everything that happens, she says, happens for a reason, and both good things and bad occur because God arranges them.

3. When I came I asked them what they had done with it? then they told me it was upon the hill: then they went and shewed me where it was, where I saw the ground was newly digged, and there they told me they had buried it: There I left that Child in the Wilderness, and must commit it, and myself also in this Wilderness-condition, to him who is above all.

The Third Remove also brings about the death and burial of Rowlandson’s youngest daughter, which Rowlandson speaks of in the quotation above. Rowlandson’s daughter has been suffering for over a week from the wound she received on the morning of the attack. Now God has put the child out of her misery, but Rowlandson, understandably, grieves for her. Also troubling is the fact that the girl does not receive a proper Christian burial in a Puritan churchyard. For family members and loved ones, a funeral and burial provide important closure, and without them, Rowlandson lacks this sense of finality.

When Rowlandson emphasizes having to leave her daughter “in the wilderness,” she explicitly compares her daughter’s state to her own, and the quotation above can be applied to all of Puritan society. All the settlers are far from home, far from the country where their ancestors were born. They are building a civilization on the edge of the wilderness, but they fear that their settlements will not be enough to keep the wilderness out. The future of every individual is uncertain, as is the future of the society as a whole. This uncertainty exists for every human society, but the geographic and psychological isolation of the Puritan settlers intensifies it. In the face of this terrifying ignorance of the future, Rowlandson claims, the only thing to do is to have faith in God.

4. The first week of my being among them, I hardly eat any thing; the second week, I found my stomach grow very faint for want of something; and yet it was very hard to get down their filthy trash; but the third week, though I could think how formerly my stomach would turn against this or that, and I could starve and die before I could eat such things, yet they were sweet and savory to my taste.

This passage, which appears in the Fifth Remove, reveals how Rowlandson’s thoughts and actions have changed in her time among the Indians. On a practical and logical level, it is not surprising that Rowlandson finds herself willing to eat foods that previously disgusted her. Three weeks of little food and strenuous travel have taken a physical toll on Rowlandson, and her body’s need for nourishment is strong enough to overcome any squeamishness she previously felt about eating the Indians’ food. On a psychological level, however, Rowlandson finds her increased appetite worrisome. She wants to survive in order to be reunited with her family and to teach others the lessons she has learned during captivity, so being able to eat her captors’ food without feeling nausea or disgust is a blessing from God, a sign of divine favor. At the same time, Rowlandson worries about her own capacity for savagery and fears she may devolve to the barbarism of the Indians. A willingness to eat horse liver and bear meat, therefore, brings anxiety. It proves Rowlandson’s ever-increasing distance from civilization and suggests her growing similarity to her captors.

5. When the Lord had brought his people to this, that they saw no help in any thing but himself, then he takes the quarrel into his own hand; and tho’ they had made a pit, as deep as hell for the Christians that summer, yet the Lord hurled themselves into it.

In the final pages of her narrative, Rowlandson summarizes the situation of the past several months. This statement is important because it again emphasizes Rowlandson’s belief in the centrality of God’s will. Far from believing in a distant or absent God, Rowlandson and the Puritans have faith in an active God who determines the course of daily events on earth. This God is an angry and punishing God, but he is also forgiving. He has plagued the colonists with Indian attacks and the violence of King Philip’s War in order to teach them a lesson. Once they have learned their lesson and understand the insignificance of outward appearances and wealth and the powerlessness of humans in the face of the divine, God is willing once again to embrace the Christians as his chosen people. Though the Indians have had a string of victories and though it had seemed that they might win the war altogether, it is now their turn to learn a lesson. Pride comes before a fall, the saying goes, and now God is turning things in the Puritans’ favor. This quotation expresses confidence in God’s capacity for mercy and forgiveness, as well as knowledge of his power and capacity for wrath.

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