This image illustrates the captivity narrative so familiar to antebellum
Americans. Beginning in early Puritan society, these stories described
episodes in which hostile Indians kidnapped white Americans, usually women.
As the historian Richard Slotkin has shown, captivity narratives provided
several layers of meaning to Americans living in a strange wilderness.
First, their ordeals obliged captives to demonstrate their faith in God
by passively awaiting rescue. For Puritans, the individual captive represented
their whole society, self-exiled from England. Each captive faced the
challenge of rejecting assimilation to Indian society, and particularly
Indian marriage. To succumb was to lose one's soul. Captivity narratives
completed their religious allegory by suggesting that the captive's ultimate
redemption by the grace of Christ represented the soul's regeneration
by religious conversion. Through the captive's story, the reading public
might partake of the promise of a similar salvation, while those as yet
unaware of their sinful nature might also benefit from the cautionary
tale. Although captivity narratives originated among the early Puritans,
they remained a staple of early antebellum American literature, as white
settlers pushed farther west and encountered new groups of Indians. See
Richard Slotkin, Regeneration Through Violence (1972).