Puritan Literature

Puritan Literature

The Puritan literature of our first unit rebels against the greater context of world events occurring during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Puritan literature portrays that knowledge was gained through studying the Bible, and that the only purpose of gaining further knowledge would be to preserve the integrity of ones own soul, or to help others in saving theirs. The Puritans’ interests in gaining or preserving knowledge were solely religious, and they also believed that any knowledge that man was to have could be found within the Bible.

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According to the Puritans, if a person had a question, he or she needed only to search the scriptures for an answer. For example, when Anne Bradstreet was searching for an answer as to why her house, and all of her possessions, had burnt to the ground, she looked to scripture, and found solace in the idea everything she had, including her own life, was on lend from God. In the eighteenth century, people still accepted Gods position as the first cause of everything, but they were more interested in the secondary causes.

For example, a person might know that God had created the trees that were used to build their house, but he or she would still want to know what had caused the fire. The people in the seventeenth century looked to mans study and understanding of science as heresy, and as trying to undermine the authority of God. In the seventeenth century Puritan view, nature was evil and dangerous. The Puritans lived in villages that were surrounded by walls, or stockades, in order to keep nature and all of the hidden dangers contained therein, such as Indians, out of their homes and their lives.

Mary Rowlandson described the first location where the Indians held her prisoner as having a lively resemblance to hell. The people of the eighteenth century, however, embraced nature rather than feared it. They believed that observation of nature using the five senses was one of the best ways to come to an understanding of the universe. They also believed that everything in nature was of Gods design, and was therefore meant to be studied by man so that he might understand the universe better.

Puritans believed that they had been chosen by God to be the people of a New Jerusalem. In A Model of Christian Charity, John Winthrop writes, He shall make us a praise and glory (225). As far as the Puritans were concerned, everyone who did not believe as they did was in the wrong, and God s providence would eventually punish them. They believed that they had entered into a covenant with God and that by following His rules, commandments and decrees they would find salvation.

However, according to Calvinist doctrine, not everyone could achieve everlasting life. Only those who were proclaimed to be of the elect were going to be saved. At the end of the 17th century, a more abstract type of literature was now emerging. For instance, William Bradford’s Of Plymouth Plantation concentrates on the complexity and difficulties of colonial administration as well as a social organization of the community. The ambivalence of exploration and discovery in Puritan literature reveals another kind of ambivalence.

It is the ambivalent relationship but also the ambivalent contrast between the positive and the negative, good and evil, utopia and tragedy. This type of ambivalence remains the most characteristic territory explored by the first writers of America. The Puritan literature of our first unit does not acknowledge anything happening in the world beyond the colonies. It revolves around their own struggles and triumphs and daily lives. The events, tragedies, and wars occurring in the world do not seem to penetrate or have any effect on their New World.


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