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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

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

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  1. American Visions, American Stories: The Puritan World View and Early American Literature English 516 Dr. Roggenkamp

  2. 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

  3. 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

  4. 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)

  5. 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

  6. 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

  7. 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

  8. Course Timeline—Early American Milestones Links to keep handy:

  9. 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)

  10. Image: Embarkation of the Pilgrims, Robert W. Weir, U. S. Capitol Building, 1837

  11. 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.

  12. 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)

  13. 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

  14. Public Notice of Christmas Ban England, 1666

  15. 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

  16. 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

  17. 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

  18. 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

  19. 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

  20. 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

  21. 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

  22. 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

  23. 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

  24. 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

  25. Massachusetts Coast (modern)

  26. 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

  27. 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.

  28. 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

  29. 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

  30. 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

  31. 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.

  32. 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