**Disclaimer** I did not write the discussion questions. I found them online and on the back of the book.
What was your overall response to the novel? What did you feel? What did you learn?
I really enjoyed this book. I have a soft sport for historical value. I did feel for the people who endured all the violence that they had to endure. I learned that both the Puritans and Indians were to blame for the events that took place.
Discuss Mary Rowlandson’s relationships with the three men in her life—Joseph, James, and Samuel. What does she give and what does she receive from each relationship?
With Joseph, she was very submissive and did whatever it was he asked. With James, she went had a variety of emotions. She was able to form her own thoughts and opinions around him. With Samuel, she was very affectionate with him. It was like Samuel was her true other half.
Mary Rowlandson lives in a society ruled by men in which women were allowed few of the freedoms that we take for granted today. Identify those constraints, discuss how they might have helped or hurt the Bay Colony’s survival, and discuss how women might have found meaning in life despite them.
I feel like the women were more or less held as prisoners. They had more freedom than the Indians did, but not really much. I’m not really sure about how it hurt. I know it couldn’t have helped any. If women had had their opinions valued then, we probably could have advanced a lot sooner and faster.
As an Indian captive, Mary feels freed from the constraint of “mutual watch,” the “relentless scrutiny of each other’s conduct required of all church members.” Discuss the idea of mutual watch as it plays out in the novel, and what it might be like to live under such a system. Can you think of any modern-day equivalents?
I find it remarkable how rumors and gossip are one of the few things that have lasted over the ages. Being well-known now is different than it was then. James the Printer, for example. He was famous back then for what he did. He’d be lost in the crowd in modern days. With mutual watch, they seemed to observe each other. They trusted each other but didn’t.
Mary experiences both cruelty and kindness at the hands of her Indian captors. Compare their behavior toward her to the cruelty and kindness shown her by her husband, Joseph, and other members of English society.
I would say that Joseph was more cruel because he knew what would hurt her and he did it on purpose. I am not justifying what the captors did. They seemed like it was to toughen her up more than anything. They didn’t care for her attitude.
Discuss the various forms that freedom and imprisonment take in the novel. What role does the sparrow play in the author’s exploration of those ideas?
Indians were free to do as they wish. The women were seen as equal and their opinions were valued. Imprisonment is a bit more complicated. In ways, being married and asked to submit to your spouses wishes and opinions is like being imprisoned. Especially if you are not allowed to leave your own yard without our husband’s permission. The Indian’s “imprisoned” her, but she wasn’t really held. She could go where she pleased as she pleased.
While living with the Indians Mary begins to find beauty, peace, and sacred mystery in the wilderness. How does she initially view the natural world and what inspires this change? Compare her experience of the natural world to your own.
Intitally she sees everything as dark and evil. As she grew comfortable with the Indians and the land, she began to see it’s true beauty. Her opinions began to change. She saw the errors in her initial opinion.
Mary becomes convinced that slavery and physically punishing her children are wrong, and she stands up to her husband Joseph on these issues. What makes her so sure she is correct to reject them? Is mere conviction enough, or is something else required?
I believe that she feels that having a slave is basically saying that the person is beneath you. She didn’t feel that anybody should be beneath anybody. In my opinion, I think it’s because she was used as a slave herself. She was taken hostage and sold. I think the impact of that experience stuck with her and she didn’t want anybody to feel the way she felt.
James Printer tells Mary, “We have both bought our redemption at a terrible price.” And Mary realizes that she felt redeemed when she followed the promptings of her heart. Discuss the many meanings of redemption in the novel.
I feel like redemption was made when one person sacrificed things to save or redeem another. Mary only agreed to write the book and let them edit it to their will to save James’ life.
The Puritan worldview differs markedly from our own. Discuss their beliefs as they relate to God’s love and punishment, child rearing, grief, the infectious nature of sin, slavery, obedience to authority, and salvation. In what ways are these ideas still part of current thought and practice? In what ways have our thinking changed?
Our thinking is different than it was then because we tolerate a lot more than we used to. If you were to sin in the Puritan era, you were shunned by everybody and couldn’t do anything. In today’s time, nobody bats an eye. People saw dancing as a sin in that time. There are places specifically for dancing these days.
Because their exposure to another culture has changed their beliefs and perceptions, both Mary and James feel estranged from their original people. Have you ever felt estranged from your own “group of origin”? Care to share your experience?
I moved to Indiana. I was there for about almost two years. When I came home, I felt like everything was different. I felt like I didn’t belong anymore. Sometimes I wonder if I made a mistake moving back home. My boyfriend loves it here though. He fits right in. We actually had a stranger think that he came home and brought me back with him.
Have you read other “captivity narratives,” either those from previous centuries or those written by recent, contemporary captives (such as Elizabeth Smart and Jaycee Dugard)? How do they compare with Mary Rowlandson’s story?
I almost said that I didn’t, but that’s a lie. I read The Butterfly Garden by Dot Hutchison and The Cellar by Natasha Preston. For the most part, they are nothing alike. However, they obviously have violence and cruelty in common.
What do you most admire about Mary? What makes her story relevant today?
Mary was passionate about what she believed in. She was fierce and determined. She risked a lot because she felt that her opinion was right. Her story is relevant today because of how strong of a woman she was. How much of an impact she possibly made.
What do you hope to remember about this novel six months or a year from now? Do you think that some part of it will remain with you for even longer than that?
I hope that I remember that it’s okay to have your own opinions. That others shouldn’t make you feel like nothing because your opinion is different than theirs. The biggest problem our world faces is hatred and people believing that they are better than others. The message is very powerful and I hope not to forget it.