Colonial/puritan notes (beginnings to 1750)

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  • The “new world” that Columbus boasted of to the Spanish monarchs in 1500 was neither an expanse of empty space nor a replica of European culture, tools, textiles, and religion, but a combination of Native, European, and African people living in complex relation to one another.

  • The Native cultures Columbus found in the New World displayed a huge variety of languages, social customs, and creative expressions, with a common practice of oral literature without parallel east of the Atlantic.

  • Exploratory expeditions to the New World quickly led to colonial settlements, as the major European countries vied with each other for a portion of the western hemisphere’s riches.

  • The role of writing during the initial establishment and administration of these overseas colonies involved influencing policymakers at home, justifying actions taken without their explicit permission, and bearing witness to the direct and unintended consequences of European conquest of the Americas.

  • The Puritans who settled in New England represented a different type of colonist, one that emigrated for religious rather than national or economic reasons.

  • Since the English language arrived late to the New World, it was by no means inevitable that the English would dominate, even in their own colonies. But by 1700, the strength of the (mostly religious) literary output of New England had made English the preeminent language of early American literature.

  • The state of American literature in 1700, consisting of only about 250 published works, reflects the pressing religious, security, and cultural concerns of colonial life.

  • During the eighteenth century, the religious, intellectual, and economic horizons of the thirteen English colonies expanded, challenging the dominance of Puritan culture with Enlightenment thought and uniting the different regions behind common national interests.

Historical Background in England:

1534 Henry III divorces wife and breaks with Roman Catholic Church; founds Church of England

1556 Mary I returns country to Catholicism
1558 Elizabeth I breaks with Rome again; within the next 100 years thousands will die in Europe as result of religious conflicts
1603 James I moves country back toward Catholicism; rise of Puritanism (1590-1640)
1607 Jamestown colony founded in Virginia—commercial enterprise
1620 Plymouth Plantation (100 colonists arrive, about half survive the first year) Bradford is Governor

(arrive on Mayflower)

1630 Massachusetts Bay Colony (1000 colonists) Winthrop is leader (he arrives on Arbella)

Puritan Ideology: Perry Miller says that Puritan govt. was a "dictatorship of the holy and regenerate." It was a "government established by God to save depraved men from their own depravity."

  • Originally sought to purify the Church of England of ceremony and ritual which they believed to be unchristian and a corruption of acceptable forms of worship

  • Attacked ritual and liturgy of C of E as Popish

  • Eliz. I opposed Puritan attempts to change C of E, as she was more interested in ruling than religion

  • Both separatists (Plymouth) and non-separatists

  • Hierarchical in structure (God is head, then leaders (men), rich, poor, native people, etc)

  • Church discipline (excommunication, punishment, death)

  • Not religious freedom; one church and all should attend

  • Puritan values (work ethic; individual struggle, literacy, writing, study)

  • Typology-comparison with chosen of Israel

  • Saw settlement in New England as promised land comparison—Godly mission to conquer and Christianize

  • Bible is authoritative

  • Worship used only Psalms or metrical versions of Psalms for singing (Bay Psalm Book); church building center of govt. too; pews assigned; later purchased

  • Personal responsibility to "read" scripture, history, events, and nature

  • Personal responsibility for "right thinking" and spiritual preparation

Points to consider in literature:

  • Puritan attitude toward native peoples

  • Central principles of Puritan thought

  • New World Consciousness

  • Resistance, undermining, questioning, or uncertainty in texts with ideals of Puritanism

  • Literary Forms of Colonial Literature: history, journals/diaries; letters; poetry; captivity narrative; autobiographical elements; sermon;

  • Purposes of these literary forms (instruction; recording of history, personal examination)

  • Concept of self and self-reliance

  • Concept of affiliation, assimilation, oneness

  • Examples of "divine retribution"

  • Puritan values

  • Narrative structure/voice

  • Biblical references

  • Figurative language—analogy, metaphor, etc.

  • Persuasive elements

  • Motifs (oppositions, contrasts, parallels)

  • Issues of identity

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