Colonial Literature

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American Romanticism

19th century Naturalism

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Anxiety of Influence



Colonial Literature:

Puritanism Calvinism Age of Reason
Jonathan Edwards predestination feminism
Ben Franklin Anne Bradstreet Crevecoeur
Phyllis Wheatley    

Age of Reason: Some general intellectual currents. Can you find any of these currents in our literature?

Important currents in 18th century intellectual culture:

Ben Franklin's legacy:

Crevecoeur: what a great question for us to ruminate: what is an American? What other insights of Crevecoeur should we celebrate?

Puritanism: have a disagreement with Catholics over authority. Puritans believed in:

Phyllis Wheatley:

Calvinism: Originated by John Calvin. Believe that man is primarily evil. Believe that man is primarily evil (Adam disobeyed God and we all pay for it.). Also believe in predestination and being one of the elect. Based on the story of Abraham whom God chooses to save.

Predestination: God chooses at birth those he would save. Catholics believed that salvation could be earned or gained through good works. Puritans rejected the theological view that "good works" save one's soul because they believed that man was primarily evil and only God could save him.

Jonathan Edwards' "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" is an example of a "fire and brimstone" puritan sermon. This sermon illustrates the Calvinistic principle that man is evil, and only the grace of God keeps you out of the pit of hell. You are hanging by a thread--ouch!

Some cultural legacies of the Puritans:

Typology: The Old Testament foreshadowing the New Testament. Pilgrims took all the ancient texts and superimposed them onto their story. Thus, the chosen people are being brought (by God--Providential guidance) to the promised land. Israel is to America as Israelites are to Pilgrims.

Winthrop's City on a Hill" challenges pilgrims to recreate a community in chaos. Preparation for the hardships ahead. Almost a threat or a warning, "if we do not succeed in this promised land, this Eden, then the questioning heathens in Europe will see it as an indictment upon our Puritan religion. We must succeed."

Puritan Paradox: One is supposed to separate himself from worldly pleasures and goods. However, the only way to tell if grace has been bestowed upon you by God is to look at your good fortune on earth. The more material wealth, the more likely it is that God has chosen you. The sin of pride conflicts with the idea of being chosen. See Anne Bradstreet's poem, "Upon the Burning of our House" to see how this paradox emerges.

Little Commonwealth: (As in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts): microcosm of the Puritan society in which the male figure(s) governed the moral and practical element of those under him (i.e. the community of children). Men were seen as the only ones qualified to ensure the moral and practical success of a community or family, since women were viewed as morally weak (b/c of Eve). Thus: Man is to family as King is to country as God is to worshipers.

Saved souls (an unknown but limited number, called the “elect”) come to understand their condition by ministry of the Biblical word. The process of saving grace is not instantaneous or quick, but slow and painful, as the soul comes to understand its worthlessness and sin. Thus, the Puritans lived in a state of constant self-examination, trying to determine if they were worthy of God’s love.
Covenant theology taught that no human being can ever know for certain whether he or she is
among the saved. The only hope lay in rigorous study of Scripture; relentless moral self-
examination; and active, whole-hearted membership in the congregation.

Self Examination: Puritan literature comes from a private need to examine the inner
life. Notice how Anne Bradstreet used poetry as an outlet for this examination. Later this fall, we will find Emily Dickinson's poems to be small, enigmatic jewels of self examination.

Feminism: analyzing the roles of women in colonial America:

NB: Compared to European cultural precept ions where women were seen as "Eve" figures of sin, women in colonial America were viewed as spiritual equals, inviduals with a relationship with God yet Little Commonwealth viewpoints adn the Salem Witch Trials show how women are still a lower political cultural status.

Republican Motherhood: a trend in the late 18th century (late 1700s) which believed women to be morally strong (yet still without political, economic rights). Idea was formed by Abigail Adams, wife of John Adams.When women were left out of the new nation (in the writing of the Constitution, etc), they needed a role for themselves. The basis of Republican Motherhood is that women were essential to the success of the new nation because they gave birth to and formed citizens of the Republic. Women, therefore, needed education and property rights that would ensure that they brought up their children to be excellent citizens.

Anne Bradstreet: Enjoy her poetry now. Later we can make some connections here to A. Rich and A. Sexton. Reflect on her poem to her father. What is the tone? What is a rhymed poem consisting of fourteen lines called? What is the typical subject for a fourteen line poem?

Other notes:

Remember Young Goodman Brown? Do you recognize or can you figure out this scene? This image is just one sin that was haunting Hawthorne:

NB: The above information derived from anthologies and college notes from several English III faculty.