The narrative of captivity: Changing voices on America's literary frontier

Date of Completion

January 1996


American Studies|Literature, American




This dissertation focuses on the narrative of captivity involving Native Americans from Colonial times through the closing of the western frontier in America and discusses the appropriation of the captivity motif into American fiction in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.^ After reviewing Biblical and Classical antecedents of the captivity motif, it examines Puritan writings by Mary Rowlandson and John Gyles to show how they also relied on religious meditational forms of the seventeenth century.^ America's frontier and the country's expansionist attitudes in the nineteenth century provide another opportunity for the literary reinterpretation of captivity stories. This century is a particularly significant one for captivity narratives because both fictional and nonfictional accounts are being composed at the same time. The ways in which Native Americans and the captivity motif are portrayed by authors such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, James Fenimore Cooper, Henry David Thoreau, Robert Montgomery Bird and others are examined for possible influences on nonfictional works by Fanny Kelly and Elaine Eastman, two authors whose work has recently been included in the literary canon. Finally, the paper discusses what happens to captivity narratives when the frontier closes. It suggests ways authors such as John Demos, Willa Cather and William Faulkner appropriate the captivity motif into twentieth- century fiction. ^