Reading and discussion questions (Patrick Erben)

English/History 3300
American Culture
Spring 2007
Patrick Erben
Discussion Questions for Tuesday, January 2007
Mary Rowlandson, True History. . .
1) What is the purpose of the text or how does the text work as
a. Communal history
b. As an account of personal experience and/or religious conversion
c. As a “documentary” of intercultural contact (a type of early American
d. Any other purpose?
2) In what ways does the text undermine the purpose stated by Increase Mather
in the Preface?
3) Language, writing, storytelling, violence, and communal identity
a. What, in this account, is the relationship between experience of
violence and its representation?
b. Where/how does description or narration move violence to an
allegorical, spiritual, or religious realm?
c. Does (or how does) the description of violence incense racial hatred
and possible counter-violence?
d. Or, is violence more of an expression of personal tragedy?
e. In what ways does violence challenge the New England Puritan
community, and in what ways does it define the community and its
culture? (To put it in more modern terms, doe we—as well as the
Puritans—need tales of violence to sustain a sense of identity, of who
we are?)
f. What is the significance of a woman’s captivity for defining a
communal identity?
g. In his book Captured by Texts: Puritan to Postmodern Images of
Indian Captivity, Gary Ebersole states that captivity narratives
examine “the human condition and, with the comparative knowledge
gained, [. . .] meditate on [. . .] the costs of civilization.” What,
according to the narrative, is the cost of sustaining New England
Puritan culture? Can you see similar questions emerging in our own
historical moment? What—according to our public/political
discourse—are the costs of our “freedom”? (cf: bumperstickers saying
“Freedom isn’t free.”)
Mary Rowlandson AND Jill Lepore, In the Name of War
a) What was the meaning of King Philip’s War for New England Puritans?
- A fight for survival?
- clash between races?
- A clash between civilization and savagery, between Christian and
- a contest between chaos and order?
b) How, according to Lepore, did New Englanders use language to make
sense of violence during King Philip’s War?
c) Please pick ONE passage from In the Name of War you would like
to discuss more closely/that encapsulates her argument!
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