October 17, 2017
American Identity: Who represents it the best?
Both Judith Sargent Murray and Mary Rowlandson have their own way of representing American identity. According to Debra Michals in National’s Women’s History Museum, “Murray was a prominent essayist of the American republic, Judith Sargent Murray was an early advocate of women’s equality, access to education, and the right to control their earnings.” Murray was a working writer, one of the first feminist, and had logical arguments for equality. In Murray’s essay, On the Equality of the Sexes, Murray states, “But, suffer me to ask, in what the minds of females are so notoriously deficient, or unequal. May not the intellectual powers be ranged under these four heads-imagination, reason, memory and judgement.” Mary Rowlandson, was not born in America, but she immigrated to America when she was very small. Rowlandson writes about her captivity by the Native Americans. She represents a Puritan woman in America. Rowlandson gives us many examples in her narrative, of how she followed the bible and how God put her through her journey for a reason. from a Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson, Rowlandson writes, “The next day was Sabbath. I then remembered how careless I had been of God’s holy time; Gods sight; which lay so close unto my spirit, that it was easy for me to see how righteous it was with God to cut off the thread of my life and cast me out his presence forever.” (131).
Murray gives different examples when it comes to reasoning, one she explains how women are judged for not reasoning, she explains how women don’t get an education so how can you judge us. Mary Rowlandson was a devout Puritan who held her bible by her side at all times and helped her get through her captivity. Murray and Rowlandson were both writers. The difference between Rowlandson and Murray is that Rowlandson was a Puritan and Murray was more universal. Rowlandson was not a feminist and Murray was. Murray makes more logical arguments and believes that a lot of sexist ideas we have come from the bible and Rowlandson would never question the bible. Rowlandson was born in England, but she was an infant when she immigrated to America. Rowlandson was a perfect example of Puritan women in America. This was a role that Puritan women were expected to fulfill. In Rowlandson’s eleven-week captivity, we get an insight of what a Puritan had to go through. She represents America’s first female literary prose voice.
Murray was not afraid to speak her mind. In her essay, Murray writes,
Thus unequal, we are, notwithstanding, forced to the combat, and the infamy which is consequent upon the smallest deviation in our conduct, proclaims the high idea which was formed of our native strength; and thus, indirectly at least, is the preference acknowledged to be our due. And if we are allowed an equality of acquirement, let serious studies equally employ our minds, and we will bid our souls arise to equal strength. (page 6).
Murray writes about her own interpretation of the Bible to criticize the premise of male superiority. “I am aware that there are many passages in the sacred oracles which seem to give the advantage to the other sex; but I consider all these as wholly metaphorical.” (Page 5). The difference between Rowlandson and Murray is that Rowlandson was not liberal. Murray explores the question of whether or not there is a difference in male and female which cannot be accounted for by means other than lack of opportunity. Murray viewed access to education as a mean’s of improving women’s lives. Rowlandson seemed like she believed that the only form of education is for women to learn and read the Bible. I believe that Murray’s writing in On the Equality of the Sexes, is an inspirational voice of early American feminism. According to Sheila L. Skemp, in her book First Lady of Letters: Judith Sargent Murray and the Struggle for Female Independence, she writes, “Murray was determined to transcend the boundaries that limited women of her era and worked and worked tirelessly to have women granted the same right to pursuit happiness immortalized in the Declaration of Independence.”
Rowlandson survived disaster by the power of her belief in God and by submitting to God’s plan. In her narrative, she expresses that God is with her and she is having this horrible time for a reason. I believe that in the Puritan community everyone was to think like this, they weren’t supposed to question God at all and just carry their faith with them. However, in Murray’s essay, it is clear that she did not think this way. The first captivity narrative was Rowlandson’s narrative. Based on this narrative, we learn about the tension between Native Americans and Puritans.
In conclusion, both Rowlandson and Murray had important roles in American identity. For Rowlandson, her narrative is an important part of American literature. We get to read about a true, first person telling us her experience as a captive Puritan woman. As a Puritan, she viewed every aspect and incident in life as coming from the hand of God for his purpose and she trusted him every step of the way. Through her narrative she quotes scriptures to remind herself of God’s protective care and purposes. This narrative also reveals more of the Native American culture. She describes them as “savages” but we are able to see both sides of the cultures. Native Americans were also going through a lot. The fact that she was an immigrant plays a big role in American identity because this is very relevant today. America is considered the melting pot of different countries. We are all immigrants and our ancestors came from somewhere other than America at one time. This also plays a big part in the history of Native Americans, Americans literally displaced and oppressed the original people of the land that we live in today. Rowlandson did go through a lot of horrible things, her children got killed, her house got destroyed, and she felt alone during her captivity. But at the same time, the things and people that she refers to as “savages” are not as bad as what was happening to the slaves and how the slaves were treated. In Murray’s case, her main focus was equality for women. This places an important part in American identity as she was one of the first females to be outspoken about this. Murray asserts that the only difference between men and women intellectually is founded in access to education. Murray was universal when it comes to the Bible and God. We didn’t see this prior to the new world.
Michals, Debra. “Judith Sargent Murray.” National’s Women’s History Museum, 2015. Accessed on 21 Oct 2017.
Skemp, Sheila. First Lady of Letters: Judith Sargent Murray and the Struggle for Female Independence. (2009).
Sargent Murray, Judith. On the Equality of the Sexes, 1790. Accessed on 23 Oct 2017.
Rowlandson, Mary. From A Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson. The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Nina Byam, Robert S. Levine, Shorter Eighth Edition, W.W Norton & Company, 2013, New York, NY. (1682), pp. 127-143.