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American Visions, American Stories: The Puritan World View and Early American Literature English 516 Dr. Roggenkamp America . . . A Nation of Stories America a nation built upon “stories” Not founded on geographical or linguistic unity—immigrant, native experiences

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american visions american stories the puritan world view and early american literature

American Visions, American Stories: The Puritan World View and Early American Literature

English 516

Dr. Roggenkamp

america a nation of stories
America . . . A Nation of Stories
  • America a nation built upon “stories”
  • Not founded on geographical or linguistic unity—immigrant, native experiences
  • “Stories” or ideologies impart a unity to diverse land and people
  • Published works, political rhetoric, press determine which stories become “legitimate” and definitive
  • Role of colonial, early Republic experience in shaping stories
dominant stories patterns emerge from english settlement in america
Dominant stories & patterns emerge from English settlement in America
  • Story of Diversity: Not a single experience or single “story”—diversified in terms of race, colonizing nation, religion, social status, motivations, etc.
  • Story of Individualism: America as a place to “go it alone”—place not tied to old European alliances, traditions
  • Story of Expansionism & Colonialism (and Exploitation): Right & even duty (God-given) to spread across continent—“civilize” the wilderness
  • Story of Capitalism: America as place where personal destiny/wealth can be found—reward for leading a godly life
dominant stories patterns emerge from english settlement in america4
Dominant stories & patterns emerge from English settlement in America
  • Story of Exceptionalism: America as an exception to the normal state of nations—an exceptional people
  • America as beacon to humanity—a “Peculiar Chosen People—the Israel of our time” (Herman Melville)
why use puritanism new england culture as a base for semester
Why use Puritanism & New England culture as a base for semester?
  • Ideal of universal literacy
  • Printing culture
  • Influence of ideology on early American literature & beyond
  • Influence of ideology on “national character” today
  • Establishes several stories of what “America” means—but not THE story!

Image: Still shot from PBS series “Colonial House,” 2004

early american literature as a challenge
Early American Literature as a Challenge . . .
  • Literature all about challenging way we see world
  • Possible challenges to your assumptions about:
  • American nationhood
  • Religion and spirituality
  • Race and bigotry
  • Sexism and gender roles
  • Politics
  • (In)Tolerance of colonial ancestors
  • History—“History is written by the victors”—but that never means it’s the ONLY story or the “real” story
early american literature as a challenge7
Early American Literature as a Challenge . . .
  • Also a challenge because of genre
  • For all colonists, “literature” meant history, personal narratives, diaries, sermons, letters, trial transcripts, religious & political tracts, broadsides—as well as poetry & eventually fiction
  • But Puritans VERY suspicious of “all products of the flawed human imagination” (Emory Elliot 35)
  • Disdained any literature that distracted attention away from spiritual world
  • People still read such things—but in New England they were IMPORTS until relatively late in 17th century
course timeline early american milestones
Course Timeline—Early American Milestones

Links to keep handy:

before the puritans
Before the Puritans . . .
  • Native American cultures: pre-contact, approx 300 million people, 300+ separate indigenous cultures, 800 languages spoken
  • Mostly oral literature—but where “American Literature” really does begin
  • Colonizing by Spanish, French, Dutch, and English, in both South (Virginia) and North (New England)
  • First permanent European settlement on North American continent: Spanish at St. Augustine (Florida, 1565)
  • English: Jamestown (Virginia) 1607
  • Literature produced by colonists and printed in colonies begins 1639, with press set up by Puritans of Massachusetts Bay (Boston)
what does puritan mean
What does “Puritan” mean?
  • Originally meant as an insult: label for those who opposed compromises Queen Elizabeth I made with Catholic church
  • Both a religious, theological label and a political, cultural label
  • Way of grouping together very diverse set of belief systems – religious, political, social
  • Not a single, stable, static group of people
  • Most common context: Congregationalists, Calvinists

Image: The Puritan, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Springfield, Mass. 1883.

puritanism roots
Puritanism – Roots
  • Label “Puritan” emerges 16th century
  • European Protestant reformation of Christianity – reform Roman Catholic Church (THE Christian Church)
  • 1530s England – Henry VIII parts with Catholic Church to form Church of England (Anglican)
  • His government still a POLITICAL THEOCRACY—belief in government by divine guidance
  • One official state religion, intolerant of others (crime of heresy)
puritanism roots 2
Puritanism – Roots, 2
  • Believe Henry and successors haven’t gone far enough in wiping out Catholic influence in England / Church of England
  • Purify Church of England – get back to basics of what they think Christianity is about, including:
  • Follow only the Christian Bible
  • Destroy influence of educated priesthood—individual path to God without intercession of priest (literacy)
  • Ban Catholic sacraments / rituals
  • Ban altars, images, priesthood, convents, etc.
  • Ban “pagan” holidays like Christmas, Easter

Image: St. Mary’s Anglican Church, Northumberland

puritans separatists and non separatists
Puritans: Separatists and Non-Separatists
  • Most Puritans simply want to PURIFY Church of England, not break with it / separate from it
  • Simply want to “fix” Church—too close to Catholic roots
  • Some, though, think Church (and by connection government of England) is beyond fixing
  • Purify Christianity by separating from established church
  • Radical political offense! (Pilgrims)

Image: Thomas Smith, Self Portrait, circa 1680

basic world view theology
Basic World View (Theology)
  • Most Puritans who come to New England in 17th century are CALVINISTS (Congregationalists)
  • Catholics—Maryland, Virginia, Rhode Island, initially
  • Anglicans—Virginia, initially
  • John Calvin, Swiss Protestant reformer, 1509-1564

Image: John Calvin

calvin s institutes of the christian religion 1536 tulip
Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion (1536)—“TULIP”
  • Total Depravity: Humanity is completely corrupted, as a result of Original Sin
  • Unconditional Election: Everyone is predestined for either salvation or damnation (& most will be damned for eternity)
  • Limited Atonement: Christ gives gift of mercy through crucifixion—but ONLY to those PREDESTINED for salvation (the ELECT)
  • Irresistible Grace: Nothing can take away God’s grace, offered to the elect—but this grace cannot be earned in any way (nor can it be refused)
  • Perseverance of the Saints: The righteousness & justification of the elect will win out over all afflictions
covenant system
Covenant System
  • Organization of New England’s Calvinist Puritan society based on system of interlocking COVENANTS
  • Covenant: Binding agreement made by mutual consent; legal agreement
  • Word that pervades early American literature—see world in terms of covenant with God and covenant with each other

Image: Geneva Bible, 1560

covenant of works
Covenant of Works
  • God promised Adam/Eve and all their descendants eternal life if they obeyed his law; Adam/Eve accepted this promise (covenant)
  • Humanity thus responsible for earning salvation via works (things they DO / way they ACT)
  • Adam/Eve broke covenant
  • God totally justified in condemning all humanity to eternal damnation from that point on
covenant of grace
Covenant of Grace
  • God totally just, but also totally merciful
  • New covenant with Abraham in Bible’s Old Testament scriptures: I will be your God and you will be my people.
  • Bible’s New Testament: Christ’s death fulfills God’s end of covenant – crucifixion atones for damnation of humanity

Image: Rembrandt, The Angel Stopping Abraham from Sacrificing Isaac to God, 1835

covenant of grace 2
Covenant of Grace, 2
  • Puritans: God offers salvation not to all humanity per se, but to select group: “the elect”
  • No one knows who is elect and who is not
  • Must have more than “intellectual” faith that you MAY be elect – must have spiritual, emotional, moving faith, total devotion to God, church, state
  • Constantly watch for signs that you’ve been offered the covenant of grace
  • Doctrine of “preparationism”

Image: Last Judgement, Sanctuary Notre-Dame des Fontaines, La Brigue, France

social covenant
Social Covenant

Idea of covenant organizes Puritan civic life:

  • King/Queen of England not in charge of church governance
  • Individual church congregations enter into own covenants with each other and govern themselves
  • Church and government of colonies also enter into covenants—theocracy
  • Extremely threatening to English monarchy
social and religious congregationalism
Social and religious congregationalism
  • Organizational system known as congregationalism
  • Not the way things run in England
  • Conformity in all aspects of life: “Here’s our contract with God and each other.”
  • Quashes dissent: break covenant & you’re out of church, land, community

Image: General Laws and Liberties of the Massachusetts Colony, 1672

why bother what s in it for me
Why bother? What’s in it for me?
  • Those not Puritan definitely not elected
  • Be part of exceptional group
  • Belief world about to end—Puritans to “make way” for return of Christ
  • Emotional charge – extremely charismatic religion
  • Social pressures – economic pressures
  • Not just about religion – also all about politics and social order
  • Sense of order and community in totally disordered / fractured world

Image: Richard Mather

of pilgrims and puritans what s the difference
Of Pilgrims and Puritans: What’s the difference?
  • All Pilgrims are Puritans, but not all Puritans are Pilgrims
  • Most Puritans are happy to keep the Church of England–simply want to PURIFY it by working from within
  • Pilgrims are radical Puritans—Church of England has to go—beyond salvation

Image: Facsimile of Bradford’s manuscript for Plymouth Plantation

of pilgrims and puritans 2
Of Pilgrims and Puritans, 2
  • “Separatists” – Separate from Church of England and therefore from England itself
  • Social outcasts – radical, subversive, persecuted
  • Of Mayflower and First Thanksgiving fame (a myth)

Image: First Thanksgiving, Jean Louise Gerome Ferris, early 20th C.

william bradford 1590 1657
William Bradford, 1590-1657
  • Separatist Puritans (Pilgrims) to Plymouth, 1620
  • Group most persecuted in England
  • Most radical, extreme views

Images: William Bradford; contemporary

reconstruction of Plymouth Plantation homes

john winthrop 1588 1649
John Winthrop, 1588-1649
  • Member of English landed gentry; attorney
  • 1629 joins other investors to organize trading company—Massachusetts Bay Company
  • Unlike most other colonial enterprises, this one not just about making profit
  • Leads “Great Migration” to New England (1630-1650)

Image: John Winthrop

winthrop and 17 th century puritanism the ideal and the real
Winthrop and 17th-Century Puritanism: The Ideal and the Real
  • What are Winthrop’s and Bradford’s ideals all about?
  • What reality does Winthrop’s private journal and Bradford’s history show in contrast to “the ideal?”

Image: Royal Charter, Massachusetts Bay Company, 1629

figures and typology
Figures and typology
  • Puritan literature explicates prophecies of Biblical Old Testament as foreshadowing of events and people—first in the New Testament, then in contemporary life (by 1640s)
  • Biblical forecasts of current events
  • E.g.: Atlantic journey of Puritans is “antitype” of Exodus of Israelites, the “chosen people” (the “type”).Image: The First Thanksgiving, Jenny Brownscombe, Pilgrim Hall Museum, 1920.
figures and typology story of american exceptionalism
Figures and typology: Story of American Exceptionalism
  • Individuals are “chosen”—the elect
  • But COMMUNITY as whole is “people chosen of God” as well
  • New Israelites (Puritans) sent on errand into the wilderness to establish the new Jerusalem in anticipation of Christ’s return