Mary Rowlandson’s autobiographical work is meant to be a true telling of a period in her life that proved to be very difficult. The central question facing this book as one considers it is whether one should think of it as valid. It is written as a true story, and there is nothing abject about the book to suggest that Rowlandson was lying. Validity and believability do not have to be burdened down by intent, though. Instead, a work can find itself invalidated or deemed unreliable when the author has some bias or motive that may not even be known to them. A person writing in close time proximity about her captors, who also stole her child and killed many of her friends, is an author ripe for this sort of bias and agenda. While Rowlandson’s work does provide some key insights into one of the most interesting times in American history, it is also unbelievable in many ways, and its validity should be questioned.
Some of the juxtapositions in Rowlandson’s writing makes one question the total validity of the work. She makes comparisons that are unflattering to the Indian captors. They may even be de-humanizing. At the same time, she discusses people like her in terms that are glowing, building an even greater contrast. She writes, for instance, “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). To call the Indians animals while referring to her own people as pure Christians is cause for concern about the work’s validity because it calls into question the author’s level of objectivity. The same phenomenon is true later when she describes the experiencing of eating the Indians’ food by writing “and yet it was very hard to get down their filthy trash” (Rowlandson). It is not just that the author describes the Indians as savages, but rather, that she describes her own people only with glowing terms. For instance, she writes, “The Lord had brought his people to this” (Rowlandson). An objective and believable picture would have presented a full picture of both sides. Had she wanted to build validity for the work, she would have needed to be more critical of her own people just as she was the Indian people.
Another reason to question the validity of the work is the fact that the author paints an inconsistent picture of the captors. In one moment, they are filthy savages with garbage food and no humanity. In the next, they are described as doing things that are not only human, but even kind. She writes, for instance, “One of the Indians got up upon a horse, and they set me up behind him, with my poor sick babe in my lap” (Rowlandson). Later, she writes, “I was glad of it, and asked him, whether he thought the Indians would let me read? He answered, yes. So I took the Bible, and in that melancholy time, it came into my mind to read first the 28th chapter of Deuteronomy” (Rowlandson). One has to question the validity of the author’s words when the very people she is describing by identity seem to be contrasted with the acts of kindness she describes in action. To make allowances for a child and to allow a prisoner not only to read, but to read the Bible, suggests that the soullessness she wrote about elsewhere in the book is somewhat overdone for effect. In this situation, one or the other of the situations must be true, but it is difficult to believe both of the author’s conclusion.
Ultimately this work is one that is difficult to believe. Understanding the context of the time and what happened to the author, she might be forgiven if she harbored some ill will toward the people who enslaved her. She might even be forgiven if she wrote a book based on the idea of promoting animosity toward those people. This does not mean that one has to accept her book as the believable truth, however, and much of this book is an argument against itself.