At the center of the novel are two friends whose actions and attitudes illustrate female strengths and values. Hope Leslie, a spirited thinker in a repressive Puritan society, fights for justice for the Indians and asserts the equality of the sexes by defying the patriarchs and choosing her own husband. Magawisca, the daughter of a Pequot chief, braves her father's wrath to save a white man and risks her freedom to reunite Hope with her sister, who as a child was captured by the Pequots and has chosen to remain with them.
The American ideal of giving everyone a voice is reflected in the very form of the novel. Letters throughout the book reveal the opinions of various characters, and the nonliterate Magawisca articulates her point of view in an impassioned speech before a Puritan tribunal. Their voices address still unresolved questions about the place of women, of Native Americans, and of dissenters of all kinds, in an American utopia.