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

Author Topic: American Visions, American Stories: The Puritan World View and Early American  (Read 2377 times)

Offline Gopa B. Caesar

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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

Offline Gopa B. Caesar

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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

Offline Gopa B. Caesar

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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)

Offline Gopa B. Caesar

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Understanding America through Puritanism & New England culture

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!

Offline Gopa B. Caesar

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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


Offline Gopa B. Caesar

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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
Not true for southern English colonists (e.g. Virginia, Maryland)
People still read secular things—but in New England these books were IMPORTS until relatively late in 17th century

Offline Gopa B. Caesar

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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)

Offline Gopa B. Caesar

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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

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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)

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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

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Puritans: Separatists and Non-Separatists

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

Offline Gopa B. Caesar

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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
Quakers—Pennsylvania (late 17th c.)
John Calvin, Swiss Protestant reformer, 1509-1564
Theology: about an interlocking system of COVENANTS (laws, legally binding agreements between God and humanity)

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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

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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.
Christian Bible’s New Testament: Christ’s death fulfills God’s end of covenant – crucifixion atones for damnation of humanity

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Covenant of Grace, 2

Calvin: 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”