- For Better or For Worse:Marriage across Boundaries
And they called Rebekah, and said unto her,
Wilt thou go with this man? And she said,
I will go. . . . And they blessed Rebekah, and
said unto her, thou art our sister, be thou the
Mother of thousands of millions, and let thy
seed possess the gate of those which hate them.—Genesis 24: 57, 60
As the Biblical story of Rebekah and Isaac illustrates, marriage has often been more about getting good in-laws than about love. Traditional anthropological theory considers marriage as part of a system of alliances [End Page 213] in which the exchange of women by men creates ongoing relationships between bridegivers and bridetakers. Using marriage to forge new ties of kinship provides especially powerful bonds since it produces children who have relatives in both camps.1 This traditional view denies women's agency and portrays women as mere commodities. Yet recognizing Rebekah's willingness to leave her home complicates this interpretation by adding a new layer of analysis that requires the scholar to acknowledge her choice. The six books reviewed here expand the concept of the "foreign bride" to include marriages across boundaries of race, ethnicity, and social class, as well as distance. By exploring the ways in which marriage combinations and individual agency are shaped and limited by existing and emerging cultural, social, historical, political, and economic factors, these authors question what anthropologist Nicole Constable calls the "gendered geographies of power" that underlie all cross-boundary marriages (14).
All marriages cross boundaries of some sort. Even within a geographically localized, socioeconomically stable, and racially similar group, marriages involve blending family traditions and negotiating individual expectations. Marriages across broader borders of status, distance, or ethnicity strain not only the relationship of the couple but that of their families and societies who either promote or exclude the relationship. Camilla Townsend's Pocahontas and the Powhatan Dilemma examines a marriage that crosses boundaries of race as well as distance. By portraying the marriage between John Rolfe and Pocahontas as a series of negotiated agreements—often mystifying to both—Townsend demolishes the mythical Pocahontas as "the joyful worshipper of Englishmen or power" (xi) and repositions her as a complex woman with ideas and plans of her own.
When twenty-eight-year-old John Rolfe fell in love with sixteen-year-old Pocahontas, he wrote Sir Thomas Dale, governor of the Jamestown colony, requesting permission to marry her. Rolfe recognized the implications of his desire to marry the still-unconverted Pocahontas, yet he was willing to acknowledge his love for the young Indian woman. His letter demonstrates the cultural divide he expected his union to cross. What, he wondered, "should provoke me to be in love with one, whose education hath byn rude, her manners barbarous, her generation cursed, and so discrepant in all nutriture for my selfe?" (114–15). Lust, he admitted, was the origin of his feelings for Pocahontas, and he had struggled "to...