The adaptability of women’s captivity narratives in American literature

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Rhodes, Ellen
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Matthew W. Sivils
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The Department of English seeks to provide all university students with the skills of effective communication and critical thinking, as well as imparting knowledge of literature, creative writing, linguistics, speech and technical communication to students within and outside of the department.

The Department of English and Speech was formed in 1939 from the merger of the Department of English and the Department of Public Speaking. In 1971 its name changed to the Department of English.

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  • Department of English and Speech (1939-1971)

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In this analysis, I explore several women’s captivity texts to show how the captivity narrative genre has adapted to the cultural needs of its readers and authors as well as what the creation of a captivity narrative means to those involved. To examine the scope of the captivity narrative throughout time and across genres in American literature, I focus my analysis on a variety of captivity texts, written by both men and women, comprising of both fictional and true accounts of captivity: James E. Seaver’s 1824 Narrative of the Life of Mrs. Mary Jemison, Sarah F. Wakefield’s 1864 Six Weeks in the Sioux Tepees, Harriet Prescott Spofford’s 1860 “Circumstance,” and Jaycee Dugard’s 2011 A Stolen Life. Early women captives, like Jemison and Wakefield, were able to use the captivity narrative to share their experiences among the Indian people. The captivity narrative provided them with a space to have a voice in literature, and therefore in history. As the captivity narrative was appropriated into fictional stories, authors like Spofford could use the genre to create a sense of familiarity for their readers and deliver layered, cultural messages. The captivity narrative form is still prominent in contemporary literature and media. For captives like Dugard, the captivity narrative provides a space for reconstruction after captivity, in both memory and identity. Therefore, the genre is a vehicle for women’s self-expression, regardless of when it occurs, who else is involved in the creation of the text, and what the captive’s intent and purpose is in writing a captivity narrative.

Sun Jan 01 00:00:00 UTC 2017