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A comparison contrast essay on perceptions of the supernatura

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

secular values.

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.

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