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A Gathering of Voices : beginnings—1750. Unit 1 American Beginnings. What are the Roots of American Literature?. Historical Background. Native Americans Had been on continent 30x longer than Europeans Approximately 25 million lived in North America upon Columbus’ arrival in 1492

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A Gathering of Voices : beginnings—1750

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A gathering of voices beginnings 1750

A Gathering of Voices: beginnings—1750

Unit 1

American Beginnings

A gathering of voices beginnings 1750

What are the Roots of American Literature?

Historical background

Historical Background

Native Americans

  • Had been on continent 30x longer than Europeans

  • Approximately 25 million lived in North America upon Columbus’ arrival in 1492

  • Lifestyle is still mysterious due to lack of written records

Literature of the period

Literature of the Period

Native Americans

  • Myths, folktales, songs

  • Myths vary across tribes, yet one common theme has emerged: deep respect for Mother Nature & creation stories

  • Oral tradition: story is alive, changing and growing with each retelling

Historical background1

Historical Background

Spanish Explorers

  • Columbus, trying to reach Asia, landed in the Bahamas in 1492

  • Age of Spanish exploration throughout North America, Mexico, and South America

  • Catholic missionaries attempted to convert natives to the faith—often ending in violent death

Historical background2

Historical Background

English Settlers

  • Failed colonies of Roanoke

  • Jamestown, 1608

Literature of the period1

Literature of the Period


  • Personal narratives, journals, official reports, legends, letters, travel logs

Historical background3

Historical Background

Pilgrims / Puritans

  • Religious reformers who wanted to “purify” the Church of England from within

  • 1620: arrived at Plymouth Rock on the Mayflower

  • Wanted to establish a “city on the hill,” a community guided in all ways by the Bible

  • Government = theocracy (God centered)

Literature of the period2

Literature of the Period


  • Writings are dominated by religion

  • Hymns, theological studies, salvation tracks, histories, biographies

  • Poetry was written, but focus was on content over form

  • Laws actually passed that outlawed fiction, plays, and other forms of reading for ‘entertainment’

Historical background4

Historical Background


  • Brought forcibly by the slave trade


  • Oral poetry, slave narratives, songs (spirituals)

  • Basically focused on the theme of slavery and struggle for freedom.

Historical background5

Historical Background

  • Puritan Theology

    • Bible = literal word of God; sole expression of God’s will

    • Human exist to glorify God

    • Predestination = salvation/damnation already determined

A gathering of voices beginnings 1750

  • Calvinism = TULIP

    • 1. Total Depravity - through Adam and Eve's fall, every person is born sinful - concept of Original Sin.

    • 2. Unconditional Election - God "saves" those he wishes - only a few are selected for salvation - concept of predestination.

    • 3. Limited Atonement - Jesus died for the chosen only, not for everyone.

    • 4. Irresistible Grace - God's grace is freely given, it cannot be earned or denied. Grace is defined as the saving and transfiguring power of God.

    • 5. Perseverance of the "saints" - those elected by God have full power to interpret the will of God, and to live uprightly. If anyone rejects grace after feeling its power in his life, he will be going against the will of God - something impossible in Puritanism.

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