The Captivity Narrative

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A Forgotten Trope in which a good, Puritan girl is captured by Indians and has to resist their culture, the Captivity Narrative was pretty popular in America from the 17th-19th centuries. These were often folktales that were made up long before the printing press and other forms of culture were readily available in remote settlements. These, often times, exploited The Savage Indian archetype for the sake of Rule of Cool or Rule of Drama. Many of the early examples were based on true-life stories, fictionalized a bit to tell a more exciting story, but later they became more overtly fictional.

A variation of this trope—a white woman is kidnapped by Indians, but chooses to stay with them because they are the Noble Savage who is Closer to Earth, has become common in modern romance novels.

The trope has its roots in a much older mediaeval one where virtuous European Christians were kidnapped by Muslim corsairs and offered to convert to Islam over the course of their captivity. Unlike the later American version, this would virtually never end with the protagonist joining the natives. Per the dogmatic religious mores of Europe at the time, the aesop of those stories was the nobility of persevering through suffering to hold to the 'one true religion'.

Contrast Going Native, in which assimilation to the native culture is framed as a good thing rather than a bad one. See also Damsel in Distress and the more hazardous version of this trope, Captured by Cannibals.

Examples

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     Film  

  • A modern subversion: in The Searchers (1956), the plot motor is whether John Wayne's bitter protagonist will rescue or shoot his Indian-kidnapped niece once he finally finds her, for the fear that she has been assimilated and tainted by evil savages. The Searchers is based on captivity narratives written about (and grossly objectifying) Cynthia Parker, mother of Comanche leader Quanah Parker. Cynthia was not only happy with the Indians, she was Happily Married to one, with several kids. Which does not alter the fact that Indians killed her family and kidnapped her. Stockholm Syndrome anyone? To be fair her husband came from quite a different band and had nothing to do with the raid on her ranch.
  • Alone Yet Not Alone is a 2013 film based on the novel of the same name by Tracy Leininger Craven which was in turn based on the real life captivity narrative of Barbara and Regina Leininger who were taken by the Delawares in 1775.
  • The Emerald Forest is a subversion because it is a young boy who is kidnapped and then adopted into the tribe. Also, after he is rescued, he chooses Going Native.

     Literature  

  • A Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson, by Mary Rowlandson, is pretty much the chief example of this trope. It's a true story, too. And a very interesting one at that. It's a must read for anyone interested in King Philip's War or early Anglo-Indian relations.
  • And one which plays it straight, only to subvert it, is Catharine Maria Sedgwick's Hope Leslie: the young sister of the titular character is kidnapped along with Hope herself and her sweetheart Everell. At first it seems as if Hope and Everell will be executed by the evil Indians, until in a moment swiped right out of the Pocahontas story, the Indian princess Magawisca saves both their lives, resulting in their eventual release. Later, Hope's sister Faith is allowed to reunite with her family—but while she has proven unable to resist Indian culture, so that Hope and her family feel they have lost Faith forever (no one ever said the story wasn't Anvilicious), the fact Faith returns to be with the people she's come to see as her family and is much happier for it is played out with surprising sympathy and generosity.
  • Believe it or not, The Last of the Mohicans of The Leatherstocking Tales by James Fenimore Cooper is actually a subversion of this. ("No, Magua's not going to rape her, or torture her, or kill her, or even tie her up. He just took her because he doesn't like you.")
  • James Fenimore Cooper later played it several ways in The Wept of Wish-ton-Wish (1829). First there is an inversion, where Conanchet, a Narraganset boy captured by Connecticut Puritans, resists all efforts to turn him into one of them and escapes. Later, Puritan children Ruth Heathcote and Whittal Ring are assimilated into the tribe after being captured in a raid by the Narragansetts. Ruth as Narra-mattah becomes the wife of Conanchet and the mother of his son. She only returns to her white family after the death of her husband. There is no happy end for her either.
  • This trope still lives in American society in subtle forms, according to socio-historical writer Susan Faludi. Her book about the September 11 attacks, The Terror Dream, specifically references The Searchers and its source narrative. She explores in detail how the trope influenced some of the media images and political attitudes with which America responded to the tragedy.
  • A modern example: Lucia St. Clair Robson's romance Ride The Wind is a popular example.
  • Another modern example: Deborah Larsen's The White rewrites one of the most famous captivity narratives, that of Mary Jemison.
  • A book called The Ransom of Mercy Carter is about a group of Puritans (adults and children) kidnapped by Indians and waiting for ransom from their families. Subverted, because in the end nearly all of the children decide to stay with their Indian families.
  • I Am Regina by Sally Keehn, published in 1991, is about this. The main character Regina is taken by the Allegheny Indians and lives with them for so long that she forgets the English language, except for a few Bible verses. This is definitely a subversion of the original trope, mainly because it portrays the Indians sympathetically, and they become Regina's family.
  • The YA novel Calico Captive has the main character, among others, kidnapped during a raid on their settlement during the French and Indian War. They're eventually sold to the French in Montreal.
  • A narrative of the captivity of Mrs. Johnson : containing an account of her sufferings during four years with the Indians and French. is exactly what it says in the Overly Long Title.
  • Rachael Plummer's Narrative of Twenty One Months Servitude as a Prisoner Among the Commanchee Indians was based on her real-life capture and is now considered a valuable look at native Commanchee culture.
  • Narrative of my captivity among the Sioux Indians, by Fanny Kelly, a pioneer woman who was captured by Indians for 5 months.
  • The ridiculously-titled An account of the captivity of Elizabeth Hanson, now or late of Kachecky, in New-England : who, with four of her children and servant-maid, was taken captive by the Indians, and carried into Canada : setting forth the various remarkable occurrences, sore trials, and wonderful deliverances which befel them after their departure, to the time of their redemption / taken in substance from her own mouth, by Samuel Bownas.
  • Blood Brothers of Gor recycles this trope in a Fantasy Counterpart Culture of the Plains Indians IN SPACE!, applying it both to an Earth-woman brought to Gor and to a native Gorean woman from a more "civilized" culture, both of whom find themselves as captives of the red savages. Gor being Gor, they (and all the other female captives) end up finding Happiness in Slavery.
  • Subverted in "When The World Is All On Fire": The main character, a Native American, takes the white girl home to her family when he catches her trying to rob a store.

     Music  

  • This genre is parodied in a skit entitled "My Captivity by Savages" by the band Rasputina on the album Frustration Plantation.


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