Write a critical note on the ideology of Puritanism reflected in American literature.
Wherever there are people there will be a literature. A literature is the record of human experience, and people have always been impelled to write down their impressions of life. They do so in diaries and letters, in pamphlets and books, and in essays, poems, plays, and stories. In this respect American literature is like any other. There are, however, many characteristics of American writing that make it distinct. This has not always been true. the ideology of Puritanism reflected in American literature.
American literature began with the first English colonies in Virginia and New England. Colonists came to the New World to find religious freedom and prosperity. They came, however, in no spirit of revolution. They came as Englishmen, bringing with them the literary wealth of English legends, ballads, and poems and the richness of the English language. They were loyal to the Crown. These settlers did not even call themselves Americans. the ideology of Puritanism reflected in American literature.
How the English colonists slowly came to think and act as “Americans” is a familiar story. How their literature slowly grew to be “American” writing is less well known. The growth of American literature, however, follows closely the history of the nation from its beginning to the present time. the ideology of Puritanism reflected in American literature.
American authors have written countless essays and songs, poems and plays, novels and short stories. There is space here to discuss only some of the most important. Even a short summary, however, shows something of the splendid accomplishment of American literature since it emerged from its crude colonial beginnings more than 300 years ago. the ideology of Puritanism reflected in American literature.
COLONIAL TIMES IN AMERICA
The man sometimes called the first American writer was Capt. John Smith. He was a soldier-adventurer who came to Virginia in 1607 and wrote pamphlets describing the new land. His first, A True Relation of Virginia (1608), aimed at attracting settlers and winning financial support for the colony. His General History of Virginia (1624) elaborates on his experiences. In it he tells how his life was saved by Pocahontas. Smith was an able leader and an interesting reporter. His books are valued because he was the first person to write about the English settlements. the ideology of Puritanism reflected in American literature.
Colonial life in Virginia was best described by William Byrd, owner of Westover, an estate of almost 180,000 acres (73,000 hectares) on the James River. The beautiful house is a showplace today. Educated in England, Byrd returned home to lead the life of a country gentleman. He worked hard managing his affairs. His most notable public act was to survey the boundary between Virginia and Carolina, fighting his way through the great Dismal Swamp. He described this adventure of 1728–29 in History of the Dividing Line, published in 1841. He told, often amusingly, of settlement life in the backcountry. Byrd’s Secret Diary, discovered in 1940, gives intimate glimpses of colonial times and helps bring to life this refined and witty colonial gentleman. the ideology of Puritanism reflected in American literature.
Plantation life in Virginia was civilized, even elegant. The people were not intellectual, however, and they produced little writing. The inhabitants, descended from the Royalist, or “Cavalier,” group in England, were faithful members of the Church of England. They accepted religion as a matter of course and felt no need to write about it. In addition, the system of plantation life produced a number of isolated communities, as did feudalism in the Middle Ages. This kept people from gathering in cities. the ideology of Puritanism reflected in American literature.
People in the Southern Colonies therefore had little need to write, and social conditions, furthermore, did not encourage them to do so. The South’s great contributions, both to statecraft and to literature, came later. The significant writing of colonial times was done in New England, where American literature may properly be said to have begun. the ideology of Puritanism reflected in American literature.
Colonial life began in New England with the landing of the Pilgrims at Cape Cod in 1620. Before going ashore they signed the Mayflower Compact, an agreement to live together in harmony under law. It is found in History of Plimoth Plantation. This moving account of the early struggles of the colonists was written by William Bradford, who was governor for 30 years. A similar journal was kept by Governor John Winthrop of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, founded ten years after Plymouth. Present-day knowledge of Thanksgiving, the Pilgrims’ dealings with Indians, and other experiences of the first settlers comes from these two narratives of the colonization. the ideology of Puritanism reflected in American literature.
THE INFLUENCE OF PURITANISM
For more than 100 years after the Pilgrim landing in 1620, life and writing in New England were dominated by the religious attitude known as Puritanism. To understand colonial life and literature one must understand Puritanism, one of the major influences in American life. the ideology of Puritanism reflected in American literature.
The early settlers in New England were Protestants. England had become a Protestant country when Henry VIII broke away from the Roman Catholic church. Some Englishmen, however, felt that the break was not complete. They wanted to “purify” the church of Catholic features; they were therefore known as Puritans. Another group, the Separatists, wanted to separate, or break away entirely, from the Church of England. These were the Pilgrims. Both groups came to the New World in order to worship God in their own way and to escape persecution by English authorities. They felt they had a divine mission to fulfill. It was the will of God, they believed, that they establish a religious society in the wilderness. This belief must have helped them endure the hard life they faced as colonists. the ideology of Puritanism reflected in American literature.
In the Puritan view, God was supreme. The Puritans held that He revealed His will through the Bible, which they believed literally. Clergymen interpreted the Bible in sermons, but each man and woman was obliged to study it for himself too. The people had to be educated in order to read the Bible, to discuss it, and to write about it. Harvard College was founded in 1636 partly to meet this demand for an educated populace. Other colleges and public schools followed. Indeed, the intellectual quality of New England life, which later influenced other parts of the country, is traceable to the Puritans’ need for a trained and literate population.