Sarah Bishop, yet another of Scott O'Dell's literary imaginings that brings history to life, delivers a profound message that goes beyond the history of Tories and Patriots in the Revolutionary War and connects with human and political struggles of the modern world.
Based upon the real Sarah Bishop, who lived by herself in the hills of Westchester, New York during the Revolutionary War, O'Dell's novel provides a perspective of the war that transcends the brave American vs. tyrannical British archetypes often seen in narratives of the war. Sarah Bishop is neither Tory nor Patriot; she has suffered because of both sides, losing both her father and her brother to the war. As Americans, we easily recognize the divisiveness of the Civil War but not always that of the Revolutionary War. The book reminds its readers that war destroys, regardless of how each one is categorized in historical narratives.
The nature and effects of war have changed since the days of the Revolutionary War. Our ongoing war on terrorism does not have the same impact on us, nor does our military involvement across the world. And yet, many of us feel the same hopelessness and inability to escape that Sarah felt in her time. Sarah was able to physically, if not mentally, escape to her mountain sanctuary. Nowadays, several permits and licenses would be needed to reproduce her actions, and most of us lack basic fishing and trapping abilities anyways. Very few options exist for those of us who feel caught up in a war, whether social or personal or otherwise. We can still find temporary refuge in nature, if we are fortunate enough to have open and protected spaces near our homes. But we must always come back to society at some point. And when we do, another sanctuary still awaits us, the reading of books such as those that O'Dell creates. It is ironic that we should seek refuge in reading about a historical figure who also sought refuge, but not so strange really. The world changes, but humanity continues to struggle and fail to overcome our most basic flaws. Through reading, especially stories of figures we can relate to and learn from such as Sarah, we can recognize our own flaws and find some escape from the ongoing war of life.