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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, oftentimes, 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 Closer to Earth noble savages—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 your beliefs.

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.


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  • 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.
  • The Last of the Mohicans has this trope as a subplot, where two white British women are captured by Indians, but rescued by the heroes of the film, who also happen to be Indians. One of the Indians is a white man who was adopted by them. The three heroes save the girls on multiple occasions, leading to romance and assimilation.
  • 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 Cynthia Parker.note 

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.")
  • Martín Fierro: Even when is placed at The Pampas (Argentina) instead of North America, the idea of a white woman kidnapped by The Savage Indian is present at this Narrative Poem: At song III in Book I, Martin Fierro says that the women of The Pioneer and Determined Homesteaders at the Frontier are captured by the Indians attacks. At the songs VII to X of the Second Book, Martin Fierro narrates how he helped a captive woman to escape the Indians and come back to the Frontier.
  • Narrative of my captivity among the Sioux Indians, by Fanny Kelly, a pioneer woman who was captured by Indians for 5 months.
  • 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 its lengthy title.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The Town: This book is the third in a trilogy about life on the Ohio frontier called "The Awakening Land". In the first book, protagonist Sayward's little sister Sulie disappears in the forest. Decades later in book 3, Sayward finds out what happened: Sulie was kidnapped by the Lenape (Delaware) tribe. Sayward meets her sister, now a fully assimilated Lenape who speaks You No Take Candle English and refuses to admit that she is the long-lost Sulie Luckett. Sayward can't decide whether or not it was better to find out, or whether or not it would have been better for Sulie to die in the woods as a child.
  • 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.
  • Subverted in When This 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.
  • Another modern example: Deborah Larsen's The White rewrites one of the most famous captivity narratives, that of Mary Jemison.
  • A Princess of Mars begins as this trope Recycled In Space, with the earthling hero John Carter held prisoner by the Tharks, a following of Green Martians whom he specifically likens to the Plains Nations. Despite his circumstances, he can't help but admire his captors' Proud Warrior Race ways. Even after he escapes, one of his former captors - the Green warrior Tars Tarkas - remains one of his most steadfast allies, and is a favourite among fans of the series.

     Live-Action Television  
  • Eva in Hell on Wheels has this as her backstory, having been kidnapped in her youth and her chin tattooed. Based on a True Story, that of Olive Oatman, who was similarly kidnapped and tattooed in 1851.
  • Discussed in Dickinson when Lavinia, a young lady in 19th-century Massachussetts, starts fantasizing about getting abducted by Indians and becoming their princess to show up a man she liked who rejected her.

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

     Video Games  
  • A futuristic example occurs in Tribes: Vengeance when the Imperial princess Victoria is kidnapped by the Tribals while space-traveling. The Tribals in this case are just as technologically advanced as the Imperials, but living in the harsh conditions of fringe planets made them adopt many customs viewed down upon as barbaric by the Imperials, pre-conditioning Victoria to fear and loathe her captors (at first).