Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Captivity Narratives as Political Propaganda

Captivity Narratives as Political Propaganda


The captivity narratives of Mary Rowlandson and Evangelina Cisneros were written for intended audiences as forms of political propaganda. Mary Rowlandson’s narrative was published for a Puritan audience in order to encourage anti-Native American sentiments, while the narrative of Evangelina Cisneros was published to encourage anti-Spanish movements in America among Cuban supporters. The divisions were already established between the groups previous to each of these narratives, but publication and distribution of Mary Rowlandson’s and Evangelina Cisneros’ narratives were examples of political propaganda being used to feminize the situations. These narratives appealed to large audiences because stories of female victims evoke feelings of sympathy and necessary protection. Unfortunately, this play on emotion can warp an opinion of the situation. These narratives urge action in response to the victimization of the female captives and are used as a tool to gain support of a cause.

Mary Rowlandson’s narrative documented her daily struggle to maintain her Puritan ethics in the face of adversity. While she told of many differences between her and her captors, her major theme was the paganism of her captors. The intense detail of the violent siege of her settlement and allusions of sexual advances by her captors were devices used to evoke protective feelings regarding female honor. The killing of the naked pregnant woman even incorporated sex and violence into a single scene. These graphic devices were included in her narrative to evoke the protective impulses settlers felt for women.

With her narrative being published for a Puritan audience, the story represented the battle of colonial Puritans against pagan Native-Americans. These anti-Native American sentiments were already present among the colonists, but this narrative was used to reaffirm their fears. The narrative served as political propaganda by achieving two goals. The first goal ensured the continuation of Native American hatred and the second, reaffirmed maintenance of Puritan ideals and religious faith.

Over two hundred years later, the narrative of Evangelina Cisneros’ also served as political propaganda. Published during the emergence of “yellow journalism,” the sensational story of a young girl imprisoned in Cuba had already caught the attention of Americans. Many Americans knew her story and events leading up to her captivity from newspaper articles, but there was still a desire to know what happened, in her own words. There was an audience waiting, meaning an opportunity to shape the narrative. Now her story could be altered in the interest of Cuban supporters.

The appeal of Cisneros’ narrative was that it took on the theme of a fairy tale with America as the knight-in-shining-armor and Spain as the evil villain. The themes of sex and violence were again incorporated just as they were by Mary Rowlandson. Like a fable, Evangelina’s thwarted rape scene stands a metaphor for the need of American intervention to prevent the rape of Cuba. Readers absorbed the propaganda in disguise

The questions surrounding whether or not these narrative were altered have effect as to how their situation is perceived. Mary Rowlandson’s narrative may have had the plethora of biblical references added by her preacher husband and Evangelina Cisneros’ story may have been altered by her translator or Hearst publications. The emotional effects aroused from the captivity narratives of Mary Rowlandson and Evangelina Cisneros drew attention to their situations because they were female. The formula of a helpless woman in captivity drew the attention of women and men. This formula is still used as a tool for political propaganda. One need not look any further than Jessica Lynch to see this formula still put to use during the first invasion of Iraq. Through a feminist lens these narratives are now seen as tools used to incite hatred of an “other.” The response to the situation around the capture becomes skewed because of emotional connection to the “victim.” One must take a step back and ask what media manipulations have brought us to the conclusions we are so quick to jump to.

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