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Colonial America. 1.      Historical Background. ⑴ In 1492, Christopher Columbus found the new continent called America.

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Colonial America

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Colonial America

1.      Historical Background

  • ⑴ In 1492, Christopher Columbus found the new continent called America.

  • ⑵ Immigrants: Spanish (they built the first town on the new continent); Dutch (they built New York city at the beginning stage); French (today still lots of people’s mother tongue is French in North America)

  • ⑶ English immigrants--- in 1607, Captain John Smith laid out the first English colony---Jamestown ; 1620 “May Flower”, Plymouth


The transportation was not convenient, why many immigrants left their hometown and came to such a remote place as America?

Economic reasons; Religious reasons---reformation and religious conflicts in Europe; persecution of Protestants.

2.      American Puritanism(清教主义)

Puritanism is the practices and beliefs of the Puritans.

⑴ Puritans=Calvinists

◆    John Calvin, a theologian, Puritans believed most doctrines preached by him, so they were also called Calvinists

◆    Puritans wanted to “purify the church” to its original state, because they thought the church was corrupted and had too many rituals

◆To be a Puritan: taking religion as the most important thing; living for glorifying God; believing predestination(命运天定), original sin(原罪,人生下来就是有罪的,因为人类的祖先亚当和夏娃是有罪的), total depravity(人类是完全堕落的,所以人要处处小心自己的行为,要尽可能做到最好以取悦上帝), limited atonement(有限救赎,只有被上帝选中的人才能得到上帝的拯救)

◆Life style of Puritans: pious, austerity of taste, diligence and thrift, rigid sense of morality, self-reliance (John Milton is a typical Puritan.)

⑵ American Puritans

◆On the one hand, American puritans were all idealist as their European brothers. They came to the new continent with the dream that they would build the new land to an Eden on earth.

◆On the other hand, American Puritans were more practical because of the severe conditions they faced.

⑶ Influence on literature

◆Basis of American literature: the dream of building an Eden of Garden on earth. (Early American literature were mainly optimistic because they believed that God sent them to the new continent to fulfill the sacred task so they would overcome all the difficulties they met at last. Gradually Americans found that their dreams would not be successful, so lots of pessimistic literary works were produced.)

◆    Symbolism(象征主义): lots of American writers liked to employ symbolism in their works. (typical way of Puritans who thought that all the simple objects existing in the world connoted deep meaning.)

◆    Style:Influenced by the lifestyle of Puritan, the writing style is fresh, simple and direct, the rhetoric is plain and honest, not without a touch of nobility often traceable to the direct influence of the Bible.


Colonial Literature

⑴ General features

◆Humble origins: diaries, histories, letters etc.

◆In content: serving either God or colonial expansion or both

◆In form: imitating English literary traditions

⑵ Captain John Smith: the first American Writer

  • Literary Works:

  • ① A True Relation of Such Occurences and Accidents of Notes as Hath Happened in Virginia---a long report recording what he saw and heard in the New World.

  • ② New England Trials

  • ③ The General History of Virginia

(3)William Bradford (1590-1657)

  • a leader of the separatist settlers of the Plymouth Colony in Massachussets, and was elected Governor of the Colony for 15 two-year terms.

  • the second signer and primary architect of the Mayflower Compact in Provincetown Harbor. He also wrote another one after the first one had been destroyed.

  • The Bay Psalm Book, stands as the first book written in English and printed in America.

  • His journal (1620–47), published as Of Plymouth Plantation.

  • Bradford is credited as the first to proclaim what popular American culture now views as the first Thanksgiving.

(4) Roger Williams(1603?-1683)

  •   a religious radical---the strange opinions such as the king had no right to grant Indian lands because these lands had been taken from the Indians. Because of these causes he was banished and lived in an Indian settlement.

  • Today Williams is remembered not so much for the specifics of his religious radicalism but as an earlier expression of the American ideals of religious freedom and democracy. Later generations enshrined him as a symbol of liberty of individual conscience and of tolerance for radical and religious differences.

  • His Works The Bloody Tenet was written, in part, as an allegorical dialogue between Truth and Peace. The first half was a point-by-point rebuttal and a plea for the freedom of conscience as a basic human right.

(5) Anne Bradstreet (1612?-1672)

◆  first American woman poet; a Puritan poet; once called “Tenth Muse”;

◆  Her poems are mainly about religious experience, family life and early settlers’ lives;

◆ Her poetry is written in poetical plain style, clear, direct and unadorned.

◆  most famous poems— “Contemplations”

Selected reading

  • I hear the merry grasshopper then sing.我听见蚱蜢在欢快地歌唱。

  • The black-clad cricket bear a second part;黑翼的蟋蟀也奏出新的乐章;

  • They kept one tune and played the same string,它们整齐列队,协调着


  • Seeming to glory in their little art. 在这小小艺术天国,


  • Shall creatures abject thus their voices raise.其他生物都低声无语,


  • And in their kind resound their Maker’s praise,在那亲切的回响里,它们


  • Whilst I, as mute, can warble forth no higher lays?可此时,哑然的我



    ----Contemplation 9

(6) Edward Taylor (1645?-1729)

  • He was unknown until 1937 when some of his poems were discovered in the library at Yale College.

  • Taylor’s book consists of two major sections: God’s Determination and Sacramental Meditations. The first section dealt with the central Puritan doctrines of election, grace, church fellowship;the second section is a spiritual autobiography.

  • Resembling the metaphysical poets in England, he produced some splendid, exotic images, burned with an intense love of Christ.

  • His poetic structure still followed English literature such as iambic pentameter.

(7) Philip Freneau (1752-1832)

◆  He is the most important poet in the 18th century.

◆He was entitled “Father of American Poetry”.

◆He was born in New York and graduated from Princeton University.

◆He wrote lots of poems supporting American Revolution and human liberty.

◆He was the most notable representative of dawning American nationalism in literature.

◆His poems presented Romantic spirits but his form and taste were mainly influenced by Classicism.

◆Most famous poems: “The Wild Honey Suckle” and “The Indian Burying Ground”

Selected reading: The Wild Honey Suckle

  • Fair flower, that dost so comely grow,Hid in this silent, dull retreat,Untouched thy honied blossoms blow,Unseen thy little branches greet;...No roving foot shall crush thee here,...No busy hand provoke a tear.

  • By Nature's self in white arrayed,She bade thee shun the vulgar eye,And planted here the gaurdian shade,And sent soft waters murmuring by;...Thus quietly thy summer goes,...Thy days declinging to repose.

  • Smit with those charms, that must decay,I grieve to see your future doom;They died--nor were those flowers more gay,The flowers that did in Eden bloom;...Unpitying frosts, and Autumn's power...Shall leave no vestige of this flower.

  • From morning suns and evenign dewsAt first thy little being came:If nothing once, you nothing lose,For when you die you are the same;...The space between, is but an hour,...The frail duration of a flower.

  • Enlightenment

1.       Historical Background

American Revolution

  • (Strict rules made by English government prevented the economic development of the colonies. So American Independence War broke.)

  • ◆     1775, Lexington, beginning of the Independence War

  • ◆     June 4th, 1776, Thomas Jefferson, Declaration of Independence

  • ◆     1778, alliance with France, turning point for American army

  • ◆     1778, English army surrendered

  • ◆     1783, formal recognition from Britain government

2. Enlightenment (启蒙运动)

  • ◆     Originated in Europe in the 17th century

  • ◆     Resources: Newton’s theory; deism(自然神教派,宗教与启蒙精神相结合的产物); French philosophy (Rousseau, Voltaire)

  • ◆     Basic principles: stressing education; stressing Reason (Order) (The age has been called Age of Reason.); employing Reason to reconsider the traditions and social realities; concerns for civil rights, such as equality and social justice

  • ◆     Significance: accelerating social progress; freeing people from the limitations set by prevailing Puritanism; making spiritual preparation for American Revolution

  • ◆     Representatives: Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, etc.

◆     Influence on literature

  • In form: imitating English classical writers

  • In content: utilitarian tendency (for political or educational purpose)

3.       Jonathan Edwards (1703—1758)

⑴ Life

  • ◆     Born in a very religious New England family

  • ◆     Graduated from Yale

  • ◆     Worked as a minister and was an important figure in “Great Awakening” (a series of religious revivals which occurred in the 1730s and 1740s on North America continent)

  • ◆     Dismissed from his position because of fierce religious controversy at that time

  • ◆     Lived and meditated in solitude; wrote some books

⑵ works and style

  • ◆ Influenced by the new ideas of Enlightenment, such as empiricism.

  • ◆     Still a pious Puritan.

  • ◆     His sense of God’s overwhelming presence in nature and in soul anticipated the Transcendentalism.

  • ◆     the great preacher and the last and most gifted defender of New England Puritanism.

  • ◆ representative sermon: “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”

  • ◆famous essay: Personal Narrative

4.       Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)

⑴ Life—Jack of all trades

  • ◆     Born in a poor candle maker’s family in Boston

  • ◆     No regular education

  • ◆     Became an apprentice of a printer when he was 12

  • ◆     A editor of a newspaper and published lots of essays

    when he was16.

  • ◆     Went to Philadelphia when he was 17

  • ◆     A successful printer and publisher

  • ◆     Retired when he was 42

  • ◆     A scientist with lots of inventions and a famous

    experiment (kite, electricity, thunderstorm)

  • ◆     A famous statesman (the only American who once signed all the four documents that created the new country)

  • ◆     An example who made American Dream come true

⑵ Literary works

  • Poor Richard’s Almanac

  • 《穷查理的年历》

  • Modeled on farmers’ annual calendar;

  • kept publishing for many years;

  • includes many classical sayings, such as “A penny saved is a penny earned.”

◆  The Autobiography(first of its kind in literature)

  • Wrote it when he was 65

  • An introduction of his life to his own son

  • Including four parts written in different time

  • Puritanism’s influence, such as self-examination and self-improvement (timetable, thirteen virtues, life style)

  • Enlightenment spirits (man’s nature is good, rights of liberty, virtues includes “order”)

  • Style: simple, clear in order, direct and concise (“Nothing should be expressed in two words that can as well be expressed in one.”)

  • Popular, still well-read today, his values and style influenced lots of Americans.

5.       Thomas Paine (1737-1809)

  • ◆ranks among the most important American prose writers of the 18th century

  • ◆edited Pennsylvania Magazine

  • ◆in 1776, published his famous Common Sense---a decleration for independence

  • ◆other works: The Age of Reason

  • The Rights of Man

  • ◆prose style: smooth and lucid, vigorous and eloquent, logical and clear structure, stimulating to his comtemporaries

6.       Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)

  • ◆great liberal leader and the 3rd president

  • ◆principal author of The Declaration of Independence

  • ◆works:Notes on the State of Virginia (1784)

  • ◆prose style: classically spare, remarkable in ease, simplicity and power.

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