Louise Erdrich, the author of the famous poem titled Captivity, tells a story about a married mother who has been held captive by a tribe of Indians. The poem uses a wide variety of literary elements such as sympathy, guilt, submissiveness, and tentativeness. The two main themes of this first person, six-stanza poem, are love and fear. Erdrich also uses tricksters, which are supernatural characters found in the folklores of various primitive peoples. They often function as culture heroes who are given acts of sly deception. In this poem, the narrator?s captor takes on the role of a trickster. In most of Erdrich?s writings, she uses multiple characters as tricksters and this reflects on her Native American Heritage (Smith 23).
One of Erdrich?s main writing tactics is the use of ?historical ?captivity narratives?? (Wilson and Jason 2716). One of the interesting facts about this poem is that it is based upon a true story. Erdrich gives us that feeling of truth and captivity before the poem begins. ?He (my captor) gave me a bisquit, which I had put in my pocket, and not daring to eat it, buried it under a log, fearing he had put something in it to make me love him,? (Erdrich, 26). This quote came ?from the narrative of the captivity of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson,? (Erdrich 26). Mrs. Mary was held captive by the Wampanoag Indian Tribe in 1676, when Lancaster, Massachusetts was demolished (Erdrich 26).
The first stanza brings a strong feeling of some sort of imprisonment or captivity. ?But he dragged me by the ends of my hair,? (Erdrich 26). The narrator at this point is experiencing fear from her captor, however she also feels passion and love when she looks into his face. ?I could distinguish it from the others? I feared I understood his language, which was not human,? (Erdrich 26). Also, there is irony in this stanza when her captor saves her from the cold waters of the stream (Wilson and Jason 2715). In the second stanza, the tribe is pursued by white men who have ?guns loaded with swan shot,? (Erdrich 26). However, the tribe is put in danger because of her child?s cries, which are from starvation. In my interpretation of the poem, she cannot ?suckle? her own child because she is so nervous and confused (Erdrich 26). Luckily for the tribe and captives, there is a woman who feeds the child ?milk of acorns,? (Erdrich 26).
In the third stanza, the narrator is to the point of starvation as she tells herself not to take food from his hands. ?I told myself that I would starve/ Before I took food from his hands,? (Erdrich 26). I believe that Louise is trying to reflect the quote used before the poem taken from Mrs. Mary Rowlandson, trying to give the reader a sense of hidden desire. However, going against her will to not give in to her captor, she eats the fetus of a deer that her captor gave to her. ?He had killed a deer with a young one in her/ And gave it to me to eat of the fawn,? (Erdrich 26). The way that the narrator describes her meal is delicate, however Erdrich tells us that it is a fetus; that paints a distasteful picture for the mind of the reader. At the end of the stanza, Erdrich is very vague about what happens and leaves it up to the reader to decide the outcome. I felt that the narrator was tentative when she said, ?That I followed where he took me./ ? He cut the cord that bound me to the tree,? (Erdrich 27). In my interpretation, this is where Erdrich uses the literary element of submissiveness. I personally think that she slept with her captor because the next and last stanzas of the poem she feels guilty.
In the fourth stanza, the narrator is frightened and hides herself in fear from God because she knows in her heart that she has sinned. ?After that the birds mocked./ Shadows gaped and roared/? He did not notice God?s wrath./ God blasted fire from half buried stumps./ I hid my face? fearing that he would burn us all,? (Erdrich 27). Perhaps she is in a bad lighting or thunderstorm in this stanza. She also notices ?her captor neither notices or fears God?s wrath,? (Wilson and Jason 2715).
The last two stanzas take place at her house later in her life after being held captive. This indicates that the climax of the poem is in the fourth stanza. Although she is home and doing well, the element of guilt is present when she longs for her captive experience and her husband. She also does not feel at home when she says that she sees, ?no truth in things,? even though she has food for her child (Wilson and Jason 2715). The narrator says, ??I lay myself to sleep? and ?I lay to sleep?, two lines that echo the prayer taught to children,? (Wilson and Jason 2715). In the last stanza, she is perhaps in a dream taking her back to her captivity with the Indian tribe. She feels that she is ?outside their circle,? however she then finds herself as a part of their chants and lives (Erdrich 27). ?And he led his company into the noise/? I could no longer bear the thought of how I was./ I stripped a branch and struck the earth/ To admit to me/ And feed me honey from the rock,? (Erdrich 27).
Louise Erdrich uses her native history and background to describe some of the elements in the narrative poem. I agree with Claudia Egerer, author of Fiction (In)betweenness, when she describes the way that Erdrich writes fiction. ?First person voices are construed as subjective, implicated as they are in the telling of their own story? their double function as narrators and narratees,? (59). Captivity reflects this exact statement. Without a doubt, Louise Erdrich creates life and history through Captivity and it?s complexity.