Comparing Views on Indians


Comparing Views on Indians: Rowlandson vs. Franklin

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Comparing Views on Indians: Rowlandson vs. Franklin 2

Comparing Views on Indians: Rowlandson vs. Franklin

When looking at American literature from the seventeenth century, readers can

expect to find many opposing views regarding clashing cultures, especially regarding

the Indians and new settlers. Writers Benjamin Franklin (Remarks Concerning the

Savages of North America, p. 226-230) and Mary Rowlandson (From A Narrative of the

Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson, p. 118- 134) both had personal

experiences with Indians, but those experiences are opposites. Franklin writes from a

tell it like it is point of view, whereas Rowlandson describes a traumatic event from her


In Mary Rowlandsons captivity with the Indians, her feelings and thoughts

towards them were altered by their actions and words to her. Some of the things she

experienced included being separated from her family, losing her small child to death,

and being spoken to harshly. On the other hand, Benjamin Franklin documents an

Indians words about the newcomers, and also shares anecdotes about interactions

between the two. The way he writes sheds a completely different light on the Indians

than Rowlandson does.

If readers were to compare the two writings, they would find that the way

Rowlandson describes the Indians is more negative and readers feel that they were not

good people, and that Franklin describes the Indians as almighty and that the settlers

were the not so good people. It is important to keep in mind the circumstances from

which each author was writing, and the events that may have impacted their tones and

choice of words.

Comparing Views on Indians: Rowlandson vs. Franklin 3

Since Rowlandson writes in first person, many of the things she says may be

biased or subjective. For instance, she calls the Indians many negative things including

merciless heathen (p #), barbarous creatures (p #), merciless enemies (p #),

inhumane creatures (p #), hard- hearted (p #), and having tyrannical power (p #).

These terms do not at all describe the Indians the way Franklin described them. It

seems as though Rowlandson opened a new heart once she received a bible and was

able to read from it. By having that connection with God, she was able to see a light at

the end of the tunnel and not give up. Although her situation was not ideal, her faith

allowed her to cope with the way the Indians were treating her.

Franklin’s writings are more objective and are not in the first person. He starts off

by acknowledging the differences between the Indians and his own kind. “Savages we

call them, because their manners differ from ours…” (p #). He describes their ways of

living- the roles of their females, the reason why they take time to give answers, and

other ways that the two cultures are different. Franklin quotes an Indian, giving their

culture a voice, and even shows that, in some ways, the Indians have superior


If a white man, in traveling through our country, enters one of our cabins,

we all treat him as I treat you; we dry him if he is wet, we warm him if he is

cold, we give him meat and drink, that he may allay his thirst and hunger;

and we spread soft furs for him to rest and sleep on; we demand nothing

in return. But, if I go into a white man’s house in Albany, and ask for

victuals and drink, they say, ‘Where is your money?’ and if I have none,

they say, ‘Get out, you Indian dog.’ (p #).

Commented [A1]: This student has done a great job of quoting multiple key phrases to support her point. I like how she quotes phrases, not complete sentences. This allows her to give ample evidence without overrunning her paper with quotes. To cite these quotes correctly, the # sign needs to be replaced with the actual page number.

Comparing Views on Indians: Rowlandson vs. Franklin 4

This quote leads readers to believe that Indians are compassionate and good to others,

an extreme opposite from Rowlandson’s description.

Tiffany Potter, an Assistant Professor of English at the University of British

Columbia, studied Mary Rowlandsons Narrative. Potter states that Rowlandsons

passionate efforts to maintain her Eurocentric Puritan self- identity do not permit her to

understand the distinct cultural demands and separate hierarchies that determine

femininity in the culture in which she is forced to engage (2003, P#). In other words,

Potter says that Rowlandson is used to her way of life: tending to her home and

children, living by the words of the Bible, and many other aspects that set her culture

apart from the Indians and their way of life.

Potter continues to discuss the ways in which Rowlandsons own upbringing has

caused her to judge the Indians. For example, Potter states The many squaws who

provide her with food and comfort are drawn as feminine but those who do not are

depicted as cruel, frivolous, and proud, failed mothers and masculinized attackers (p

#). This correlates perfectly with Rowlandsons description of the Indians during her first

few days with them. It is clear that she compares them with her own civilized life,

especially when looking at the differing roles of the females. Rowlandson is not used to

seeing females behaving and acting in such ways as the Indians do. For instance, in

one case, Rowlandson described her Indian mistress as slapping her in the face (p #)

when she complained. This and many more of Rowlandsons experiences led her to see

the Indians much differently than Franklin described.

In contrast to the beasts that Rowlandson describes, Benjamin Franklin

describes Indian women as the records of the council (p #). It is their duty to

Comparing Views on Indians: Rowlandson vs. Franklin 5

remember and pass on important stories and other oral facts. Franklin also wrote that

womens duties included tilling the ground, dressing the food, nursing and bringing up

the children, and preserving and handing down to prosperity the memory of public

transactions (p #). While Franklin implicitly acknowledges that white women and Indian

women have different roles and duties, he does not describe the Indian women as

unnatural or unfeminine, like Rowlandson does. Instead, he stresses the value of the

contributions that Indian women bring to their culture.

It is important to remember that although Franklin and Rowlandson both write

about the Indians, their personal experiences with them cause their attitudes to be

different. Rowlandson was held captive by the Indians for several weeks, and therefore

her view of the Indians is more negative. Franklin is friendly toward the Indians,

therefore he is able to appreciaterather than criticizethe differences between the

Indians and the white folk. Franklins perspective is significant because it gives us some

insight into how the Indians must have felt towards whites. Their culture was largely oral

during this time period, so we do not often get their direct opinion. However, Franklin

understands the Indian perspective better than most whites; therefore, comparing

Franklin with Rowlandson allows us to see both sides to the cultural conflict.

Comparing Views on Indians: Rowlandson vs. Franklin 6


Baym, N. et al. (2007). The Norton anthology of American literature (7th short ed., Vol.

1). New York: WW Norton & Company.

Potter, T. (2003). Writing indigenous femininity: Mary Rowlandsons narrative of

captivity. False Acardias, 36, 153-167.

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