The American Captivity Narrative Is An Accurate Account Of An Individual

The American Captivity Narrative Is An Accurate Account Of An Individual

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At its most basic level, the American Captivity Narrative is a biographical or autobiographical account of an individual’s captivity at the hands of the Native Americans. Though understood to be an accurate account of the individual’s experience, these narratives contain a number of common rhetorical features that serve to augment the emotional impact of the events described. Frequently, the customs and practices of each individual’s captors are the source of these notable occurrences. Common themes include: torture or suffering, adoption, hunting, and the sharing or discussion of spiritual beliefs. Taken as a whole, these major events weave a narrative of self-transformation. Though these texts do not typically end with the narrator converting to the practices of his or her captors, they often serve to grant insight into the mindset and belief system of the Native Americans. For instance, many of these narratives detail the gradual shift of the narrator as he or she adapted to a lifestyle dramatically different from that of a conventional Christian settler. In this sense, these rhetorical conventions serve as crucial milestones on the narrator’s path towards self-transformation.
One early example of the Captivity Narrative is that of Hans Staden; a German man captured by the Tuppin Imba while on a voyage to Brazil. Staden’s account is largely concerned with the cannibalistic tendencies of his captors, and the way in which he escaped a gruesome fate by convincing them that he was protected by God. Initially he is accused of being one of the hated Portuguese by the Tuppin Imba and is subjected to a violent reception. He notes that upon his capture “they threw me to the ground and shot and stabbed at me…One said he was the first...


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..., they gradually came to occupy places of varying familiarity with their captors. In their journey each acquired some new understanding of themselves, through either faith or worldly experience. The extraordinarily inclusive nature of these societies is apparent in the tradition of adoption, with the manner in which captives become akin to family being extremely curious. Most striking in the narratives is how the entirety of the Native American culture is exposed, in all its brutality and humanity. In each of the narratives, the audience is confronted with shocking acts of violence that stand in stark contrast to the humanity displayed by the Native Americans in the later portions of the narrative. Eventually, it can be seen that the narrator’s attitude towards his captors slowly shifts as he becomes more familiar with both the people and customs of an alien culture.

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