The selections we have read this semester have literally opened up my eyes to early American literature. While some readings have merely confirmed my current beliefs, others have contrasted sharply and even changed some of my views of early American history. The works I will be discussing are: Columbus: Journal of the First Voyage, William Bradford: Excerps from Of Plymouth Plantation and Mary Rolandson: Narrative. These three works have had a dramatic effect on my current views of early American literature and history.
The Journal of the First Voyage probably had the most impact on me. It showed the Indians and colonists as having a very peaceful interaction with each other. I must admit I never had a picture in my mind of Indians being peaceful. This image contrasts with the image of Indians as savage barbarians that’s so commonly portrayed on television, film and even some of the readings in our textbook. The Indians revered Columbus and his men and traded freely with them, bringing “javelins and clews of cotton to barter, with they exchanged with the sailors for bits of glass, broken cups, and fragments of earthenware”(118). Whereas other authors, such as Mary Rowlandson, depicted the Indians as “Merciless Heathens”, Columbus found them to be quite the contrary, describing them as “a very gentle race, without the knowledge of any iniquity; they neither kill, nor steal, nor carry weapons, and are so timid that one of our men might put a hundred of them to flight”(124). Of course all things being relative, Columbus was not exactly in the same position as Mary Rowlandson.
Mary Rowlandson’s experience with the Indians was a far cry from Columbus’ interaction with them. She shares her feelings towards the Indians in a very negative way. During the Indan attack on her Lancaster settlement, Rowlandson describes the scene of stabbing, killing, and burning as very gruesome and vicious. In fact, with her brother-in-law lying dead on the ground, she refers to the Indians as “Merciless Heathens.” She describes the attack: “It is a solemn sight to see so many Christians lying in blood, some here, and some there, like a company of sheep torn by wolves, all of them stript naked by a company of hell-hounds, roaring, singing, ranting and insulting, as if they would have torn our very hearts out”(344). During her journey as a captive of the Indians, Rowlandson describes them as ravenous Beast and Barbarous Creatures. When she and her child fell over the horses back, the Indians laughed and rejoiced. At this occurrence she calls them inhumane creatures. All in all, the Mary Rowlandson narrative paints a very grim picture of the Indians’ behavior towards the colonists.
Of Plymouth Plantation is a great look at early American culture. It shows how the colonists began what is now a thriving democracy. When they all banded together and signed the Mayflower Compact, they did not assign a king, rather a governer; someone to govern over this “Civil Body Politic” they had begun. Although times were hard in the beginning and there was talk of mutiny, these thoughts “were soon quelled and overcome by wisdom, patience, and just and equal carriage of things, by the Governer and better part”(251). We can see the democratic systems employed the Governer, such as when he “assigned to every family a parcel of land, according to the proportion of their number”(254). These were the humble beginnings of what we have today.
Our views of the world are constantly evolving, from the day we are born till the day we meet our maker. College is perhaps the most influential time regarding our views towards the world. The reading from this semester have greatly effected my views of early American literature and history. I now see history in a different light and I am grateful for the enlightenment.