English / American Literature
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Autor: anton 24 April 2011
Words: 875 | Pages: 4
Writing Assignment II
Scholars have long pointed out Puritans in American literature for hundreds of years. They rest on ambition, hard work, and an intense striving for success. Although individual Puritans could not know, in strict theological terms, whether they were "saved" and among the elect who would go to heaven; Puritans tended to feel that earthly success was a sign of election. Wealth and status were sought not only for themselves, but as welcome reassurances of spiritual health and promises of eternal life. The Puritans interpreted all things and events as symbols with deeper spiritual meanings, and felt that in advancing their own profit and their community's well-being, they were also furthering God's plans. They did not draw lines of distinction between the secular and religious spheres, but instead all life was an expression of the divine will. In recording ordinary events to reveal their spiritual meaning, Puritan authors commonly cited the Bible, chapter and verse. Like most Puritans, they interpreted the Bible literally. William Bradford, Mary Rowlandson and Cotton Mather are among three puritan authors who should be discussed and compared when dealing with Puritan/American literature.
William Bradford was elected governor of Plymouth in the Massachusetts Bay Colony shortly after the Separatists landed. He was a deeply religious and self-educated man who had learned several languages. His participation in the Mayflower voyage to Plymouth, and his duties as governor, made him ideally suited to be the first historian of his colony. His history, Of Plymouth Plantation (1651), is a clear and compelling account of the colony's beginning.
Bradford also recorded the first document of colonial self-governance in the English New World, the "Mayflower Compact," drawn up while the Pilgrims were still on board ship. The compact was a precursor of the Declaration of Independence which came nearly 150 years later. Puritans disapproved of such amusements as dancing and card-playing, which were associated with ungodly persons and immoral living. Reading or writing books not on the topic of God or daily life also fell into this category. Bradford poured his tremendous energies into nonfiction and religious genres: poetry, sermons, theological pieces, and histories. His intimate diaries and meditations record the rich inner lives of these meditative and intense people.
The earliest woman writer of note is Mary Rowlandson, a minister's wife who gives a clear, moving account of her 11-week captivity by Indians during an Indian massacre in 1676. As a typical Puritan writer would, Rowlandson chose to write about God, religious beliefs, and her hardships. After the death of her child Rowlandson thanked God for preserving her. This statement clearly reveals her faith in Godâ€™s will. In the narrative she also describes her daily life as a captured woman. Rowlandson writes that she was â€œcalling for my pay,â€ after she made a shirt for one of the Indians. After that, she was called again to perform the same task and was paid a knife.
Like the puritans, Rowlandson uses a plain style of writing. The language she uses is uncomplicated and easy to understand. She dose not use references to other books except the bible. She also compares her experiences to the bible. Such writings as Rowlandson produced are usually domestic accounts requiring no special education. Rowlandsonâ€™s literature benefits from its homey realism and common-sense wit; and differs greatly from other haughty male writers of her time.
New England colonial literature would not be complete without mentioning Cotton Mather. The third in the four-generation Mather dynasty of Massachusetts Bay, he wrote at length of New England in over 500 books and pamphlets. Mather's 1702 Magnalia Christi Americana is his most ambitious work which thoroughly records the settlement of New England through a series of biographies. Mather's distinguishing literary characteristic is the degree to which he merges history and autobiography. Certain elements of Mather's approach to church history, for example, can be found in the numerous models he used, among them Bradford. But whereas Bradford's Of Plymouth Plantation is written in a modest and self-sacrificing manner one associates with the Puritanâ€™s lifestyle, Mather constantly intervenes, forcing his own voice upon the reader. Such obtrusiveness makes sense if one realizes that Mather's real interest lies not only in conveying the facts of men's lives but also turning those facts into helpful examples that gives him a real sense of responsibility in Godâ€™s world. In this regard, it may be useful to compare Mather's self-presentation with that of Rowlandson, whose wilderness ordeal also spoke of New England's beneficial opportunities and prosperity. Matherâ€™s complex writing style is what makes him so fascinating. His enthusiasm for writing, education and sharing his works with others makes up for his arrogance.
All three authors have benefited American literature for hundreds of years and will continue influencing classrooms for years to come. They all have very unique writing styles and their motives or purposes for publishing their works are different as well. Whatever their reasoning, one thing is for sure, Nothing, but nothing happens in Godâ€™s world by mistake. The Bible is the heavenly director and Godâ€™s message must be passed on for generations to come for divine intervention. That is their shared prupose.
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