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Richard Vanderbeets on the Pattern and Significance

of the Indian Captivity Narrative



     The journey of the archetypal initiate, then, proceeds from Separation (abduction), Transformation (ordeal, accommodation, and adoption), and Return (escape, release, or redemption).  This ritual passage, one of the most fundamental of all archetypal patterns, finds expression in the narratives of Indian captivity to an extent that renders this configuration an essential structuring device of the tales.  This basic pattern, when viewed in the light of such ritual practices as cannibalism and scalping, demonstrates the degree to which elements of distinctly archetypal nature have pervaded and informed the captivity narratives throughout their development.  Further, these elements account in large measure for the remarkable pull the captivities have exercised upon readers, an appeal that transcends sectarian religious feeling, narrow chauvinism, or morbidity--the several "popular" subliterary significances.  The narratives of Indian captivity are more than cultural indices or curiosities; they touch upon fundamental truths of experience.  It is in this that the Indian captivity narratives collectively constitute a single and literary whole, and it is by this that they belong with those expressions of man which draw and shape their materials from the very wellsprings of human experience.




Source:  Richard Vanderbeets, “The Indian Captivity as Ritual,” American Literature Vol. 43 (1972), 548-562.  Quotation, page 562.


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