04 February 1997
A Comparison and Contrast of the
Supernatural's Active Role in the
Lives of Mary Rowlandson and Benjamin Franklin
The literature written during this time period reflects
the important part the supernatural (God) played during
those changing times. The new world was struggling for a new
identity. Were these individuals also defining the role of
God to themselves?
In the preceding discussion the lives of Mary
Rowlandson and Benjamin Franklin will be discussed. Each
wrote a narrative of their life experiences. There are
marked contrasts and comparisons between these two
individuals related to their perceptions of God.
Religion was a vital part of life in colonial America.
A shift from theism to deism was occurring. The Puritans of
this time were fleeing the Church of England. Their hope was
to return to the more primitive ways, to reject the churches
hierarchy and ritual.
Mary Rowlandson, a puritan in Lancaster, Massachusetts
was captured by Indians, along with three of her children in
the year 1676. In her narrative she relates the story of
her survival in the wilderness for a period of three months.
She is taken away from her home and husband, "all was gone
(except my life); and I knew not but the next moment that
might go too" (127).
Benjamin Franklin's The Autobiography is an account of
his life and begins with his boyhood life in Boston. He
later flees to Philadelphia to escape his brother's rule
over him. He relates how he was "dirty", "fatigu'd", and
"Want of Rest" (222).
In these depictions we can see an analogy. These
individuals are removed from their homes and families.
Although Benjamin Franklin's removal was of his own free
will. They each suffered as they no longer had the comforts
of which they were accustomed.
Rowlandson's faith was remarkable considering all that
she endured. Through out the narrative she must rely on her
faith in God. She incorporates numerous verses from the
Bible to offer explanations for all that she has suffered,
"Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall
strengthen thine heart: wait, I say on the Lord" (129). It
is also noted that she was able to use her trade to survive,
"knitting a pair of white cotton stockings for my
mistress"(130). This is also a parallel to Franklin in that
he also used his trade to survive. But one must ask what is
motivating Rowlandson? Is she writing for posterity or is
she merely egocentric? Rowlandson has depicted herself as
the ultimate Puritan. Was the glory to God or to herself?
She also relates here "how many Sabbaths I had lost and
misspent" (128). It is interesting to note that toward the
end of the narrative she begins to see that her fate is in
God's hands, "When thou passest through the waters, I will
be with thee"(133). At the end she recounts her old ways, "I
have seen the extreme vanity of this world" (134).
Franklin, states, " I had been religiously educated",
Iseldom attended any Public Worship"(226). Some of the dogma
he described as "unintelligible", "others doubtful" (225).
He saw a need to center authority for our lives not in God
but in oneself. He also noted "My conduct may be blameable,
but I leave it without attempting farther to excuse it"
(227). Franklin is explaining his behavior but not making
apologies. It is also noted that he reveals that he had
undertaken "the bold and arduous Project of arriving at
moral perfection" (227). He had also written a "Form of
Prayer for my own private use" (227). In Franklin's
"Thirteen Names of Virtues", He lists the qualities he deems
"Desirable" (228). Originally there were only 12 but "a
Quaker friend kindly inform'd me that I was generally
thought proud" (233). The last virtue is humility, and his
statement "imitate Jesus and Socrates", reflect deism(228).
Although Franklin does state that he was not able to achieve
this virtue, he reveals, " I had a good deal with regard to
the Appearance of it" (233). Franklin also had a "Memorandum
Book", in which he kept
track of his virtues. The book was lined in red ink and his
faults were marked in black, "which marks I could easily
wipe out with a wet sponge"(231). Could this possibly be an
analogy to God? Franklin is forming his own destiny in
relation with his deist beliefs. The ideas he projects are
rectitude, justice and belief that happiness may be found in
Near the end Franklin reviews his "Scheme" and relates
it "was not wholly without Religion" but it did not
necessarily reflect any "particular sect"(233). Is this an
elusion of the America to come? A new world which offered
religious freedom? This America in its infancy was
establishing an identity free from the mother land. Breaking
the tie that binds is never easy. In his Autobiography
Franklin was seeking to establish a new identity for the new
world. This parallels Rowlandson in that she at the end of
her captivity has evolved into a new person. Although
Rowlandson has placed her fate more in the hands of her God.
Franklin suggests that man controls his own destiny but
also makes reference throughout to God. He must deal with
his excessive pride, even as Mary Rowlandson has dealt with
her own vanity.
Thus the supernatural (God) did help to shape our
country to what it is today. Our beliefs reflect what our
purpose is, what our identity is. Mary Rowlandson and
Benjamin Franklin were setting the standards for Americans
to aspire to be.