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Making Captivity Narratives Relevant to High School Students: Comparative Analysis of Popular Fiction of Today and the Past

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The captivity narrative genre is not often a favorite type of literature among most students. Perhaps because of the time in which they were written, students have trouble relating to characters whom lived in a setting more than two and three hundred years ago. Although the genre receives attention in many early level American literature college courses, high school English teachers rarely—if at all—teach captivity narratives. When it is used, students perceive the captivity narrative as a historical document rather than a literary text. In other words, students do not recognize captivity narratives as literature. However, the captivity narrative deserves a place in the high school English classroom because as a genre, captivity narratives provide the foundation for many of the rhetorical arguments found in US literature. In this way, captivity narratives have influenced other literary genres and arguably became the first type of literature to incorporate the American frontier hero, while also subverting traditional gender and racial norms. To encourage an increased use of this subject at the high school level, we need to teach the captivity narrative under the same light its original readers interpreted it. Treating the captivity narrative as a form of popular fiction, and using Mary Rowlandson’s narrative as a specific example, students will discover the literary merit and entertainment value of the captivity narrative genre. Thus, having a class project where students compare captivity narratives to literature with which they are familiar and that they enjoy reading would immediately make the captivity narrative relevant and therefore worth learning.

As one of the earliest examples of its type, Rowlandson’s captivity narrativ...

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...ool students will choose the texts with which they compare to the captivity narrative. First, in his novel, Catch-22, Heller argues that the bureaucratic world of army life in wartime is a wilderness of reason. In being drafted, the “evil” American army forces Yossarian into the wilderness of war and the rule of Catch-22, and the army takes Yossarian from his innocent state of life away from the war and in a world that makes sense. Yossarian spends his time trying to get out of the army, residing in a liminal space where he cannot go complete his commitment to fly the required amount of dangerous missions without his boss increasing that amount and cannot reasonably live in the army without dying. Yossarian grows morally by learning to circumvent the law of Catch-22: his redemption arrives when Yossarian finally abandons logic and sails to Sweden in a lifeboat.
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