Early American Writers

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Early American Writers

William Bradford’s Excerpts from Of Plymouth Plantation

Unconditional Election: Disease was spreading and more than half of the people on board died “And yet the Lord so upheld these persons as in this general calamity they were not at all infected either with sickness or lameness…. And I doubt not but their recompense is with the Lord.”

Sign of Christianity, a proud young man who did not help other, “But when he grew weak, they had compassion on him and helped him; they he confessed he did not deserve it at their hands, he had abused them in word and deed. ‘Oh!’ (saith he), “you, I now see, show your love like Christians indeed one to another lie and die like dogs.’”

• “So they committed themselves to the will of God and resolved to proceed.”

• Someone was falling off the boat.. “but it pleased God that he caught hold of the topsail halyards…got into the ship again and his life saved.”

The General History of Virginia by John Smith

Main Idea:

In John Smith’s article, The General History of Virginia, we see the writing of an early American who was one of the first people to colonize Virginia. The main idea of this article was for Smith to attract investors to the New World. Smith was brought over by the Virginia Company and needed to send back an account of New World so European interest of this area would grow. The overarching idea is what America has to offer and what do Europeans have to do in order to make the New World successful. As of now Smith and his settlers are struggling for survival so help from larger powers overseas are desperately needed. John Smith was an early American writer as he showed off America to many people far overseas.


“…the good success of the business being thus oft brought to the very period of destruction; yet you see by what strange means God hath still delivered it” (Smith 5)

“…but almighty God (in His divine providence) had mollified the hearts of those stern barbarians with compassion.” (Smith 4-5)



Main beliefs

Total depravity- everyone is born sinful.

Unconditional election- only few are chosen for salvation.

Limited atonement- Jesus died for a chosen few.

Irresistible grace- you cannot earn or deny god’s grace.

Perseverance of the saints- only those chosen by god can interpret his will.

Additional beliefs are typology (godly actions in everyday life), Manifest destiny (expand American culture), and backsliding (god’s grace chosen can fall into sin at any time.)

John Winthrop’s “ A Model of Christian Charity”

The main idea of John Winthrop’s “A Model of Christian Charity” is that John Winthrop is creating the ideal society, or a city upon a hill. In this speech, John Winthrop explains his proposed outline for how society will run. He explains that in humans, there is inevitable class inequalities and imbalance of power. He says that this imbalance causes conformity with the world, and that if this social order is kept, community ties will be strengthened. Winthrop goes on to discuss the rules which the society must live by to be successful, known as the rule of Justice and mercy, the law of nature, and law of grace. Living by these rules includes lending money to anyone in times of need; always lend a helping hand without request, and to forget all debts owed you unless they break the law. The society focuses very heavily on forgiving people for what they cannot afford to do, and makes it so although there are class differences, this society will do its best to make those class differences small. Winthrop finishes his speech saying that this is a community that will be tightly knit and will always help one another. He believes that Christianity and government are one, and therefore will have a religious government. He believes by following these rules and conformities that the people will improve their lives, honor god, and become the ideal Christian society.


“There is likewise a double law by which we are regulated in our conversation towards another. In both the former respects, the law of nature and the law of grace (that is, the moral law or the law of the gospel)… By the first of these laws, man as he was enabled so withal is commanded to love his neighbor as himself. Upon this ground stands all the precepts of the moral law, which concerns our dealings with men” (Winthrop 2).

“For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we shall deal falsely with our god in this work we have undertaken, and so cause him to withdraw his present help from us, we shall be made a story and a by- word through the world” (Winthrop 5).

Anne Bradstreet’s “To My Dear and Loving Husband”

Main Idea: In this poem, Bradstreet is professing the profound love that she has for her husband. She uses various Puritan beliefs/techniques chief among them being the belief in the afterlife because she says that her love will survive even after death, through eternity, because that is how strong her love is for her beloved husband.

Important Passages:

“Then while we live, in love let’s so persevere

That when we live no more, we may live forever” (Bradstreet).

“Thy love is such I can no way repay.

The heavens reward thee manifold, I pray” (Bradstreet).

Edward Taylor’s “Huswifery”

Main Idea: Throughout the poem, Taylor is describing how he has been working so hard making this “robe” and has done it all for God – showing how dedicated he is to God. Taylor feels that because he has been so committed and obedient to God, he should finally be granted the glory of God.

Important Passages:

“Then mine apparel shall display before yee

That I am Cloathd in Holy robes for glory” (Taylor).

“Make me, O Lord, thy Spinning Wheele compleat;

Thy Holy Worde my distaff make for me” (Taylor).

Arthur Miller’s The Crucible

"a man may think God sleeps, but God sees everything, I know it now. I beg you - see her what she is...she thinks to dance with me on my wife's grave! and well she might, for i thought of her softly. God help me, I lusted and there is a promise in such sweat. but it is a whores vengeance..." - john proctor

"i want to open myself! i want the light of god i want the sweet love of Jesus! i danced for the devil; i saw him, i wrote in his book; i go back to jesus; i kiss his hand. i saw sarah good with the devil..." - abigail

"i look for john proctor that took me from my sleep and put knowledge in my heart! i never knew what pretense Salem was, i never knew the lying lessons i was taught by all these christian women and their covenanted men! and now you bid me tear the light out of my eyes? i will not, i cannot! you loved me, John Proctor, and whatever sin it is, you love me yet"

Enlightenment/Age of Reason

Overview of Period

Main Idea: The Enlightenment/Age of Reason was a time when scientific discovery and knowledge were prevalent. Beliefs shifted from their original religious routes to a more intellectual foundation. Questions about the world and how it worked were hypothesized and answer through scientific methods. The movement began in Europe by the great minds of Rousseau, Voltaire, and Montesquieu and was adapted to early American life by figures such as Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson.

Core Beliefs/Ideals: The Enlightenment/Age of Reason shows the basic human quest for truth. Humans constantly feel the need to find an explanation for earthly phenomena. Whether it be the sun rising or the true shape of the planet earth, the humans have been searching for answers throughout the course of time.

Benjamin Franklin’s “Autobiography”

Franklin was a self-educated and self-made man. He reflects on these attributes in his “Autobiography” where he focuses on the quest for moral perfection.

pg 2 of packet: “I wished to live without committing any fault at any time; I would conquer all that either natural inclination, custom, or company might lead me into.”

This passage shows his goals and his sense of optimism as he goes into this project. His findings reveal that “…while my care was employed in guarding against one fault, I was often surprised by another; habit took the advantage of inattention; inclination was sometimes too strong for reason” (second page of packet).

He underwent a process much like the one we did in class where we listed our goals and recorded our progress for a week, tracking how many times we did not meet our set requirements. This stresses the belief of perfectibility of human being.

Moral Perfection from The Autobiography “It was about this time I conceived the bold and arduous project of arriving at moral perfection” (Franklin 55).

Moral Perfection from The Autobiography“…I therefore contrived the following method. In the various enumerations of the moral virtues I had met with in my reading, I found the catalog more or less numerous, as different writers included more or fewer ideas under the same name” (Franklin 55).

Benjamin Franklin’s “Poor Richard’s Almanac”

This yearly periodical was written by Benjamin Franklin from 1732 to 1758.Besides containing useful functions such as a calendar, the weather, and astrological information, the publication was filled with poems reflecting the Era of Common Sense that was currently present in America. The most popular of these creative works were the short sayings written by Franklin himself, most of which advised Americans to work hard and live a virtuous, productive life. Here are some of the best snippets from Poor Richard’s Almanac:

Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy wealthy and wise
God helps those who help themselves
A penny saved is a penny earned
These quotes reflect the Age of Reason because they emphasize logical thinking, organization, and hard work.

Philip Freneau’s “On the Uniformity and Perfection of Nature”

Main Idea: Nature was created by god but is now left to its own devices. Its own intuition of reason allows it to reach perfection.

Passage 1: “All, nature made, in reason’s sight/ Is order all, and all is right.” Reason is “Right”, sovereignty of reason.

Passage 2: “Unsettled in its first design/ And erring, when it did combine/ The parts that form the vast machine/ The figures sketch’d on nature’s scene.” Absentee Landlord and Interest in Nature

Philip Freneau’s “The Wild Honeysuckle”

Main Idea: Nature created the beautiful and untouchable Honeysuckle to be perfect, to be naturally good, even that of a flower in Eden. However, as nature works and reason holds true, the beautiful flower will yet perish into what it once was, “If nothing once, you nothing lose/ For when you die you are the same/ The space between, is but an hour/ The frail duration of a flower.”

Passage 1: “No roving foot shall crush thee here,/ No busy hand provoke a tear./ By Nature’s self in white arrayed,/ She bade thee shun the vulgar eye,” Optimism then Individualism

Passage 2: “The flowers that did in Eden bloom;/ Unpitying frosts, and Autumn’s power/ Shall leave no vestige of this flower.” Interests in Classic’s and Bible, Faith in Natural Goodness, and Reason


Washington Irving’s “The Devil and Tom Walker”

Main Idea:

Tom Walker and his wife have a very bad relationship. They are not wealthy, and they are not very loyal to each other. One day on his way home Tom decides to take a shortcut through a forest where he meets the Blackman, the Devil. The Devil marks Toms forehead and tries to offer him hidden riches in the forest. Tom heads home, unwilling to commit himself to the devil. But when he tells his wife of the treasure, she heads into the forest to strike a deal with the Devil. She is never seen again. Tom is actually happy about the death of his wife and he seeks acquaintance with the Devil. The devil wants Tom to become and usurer, which he does. Soon he makes great deals of money, all unethically of course. He realizes this is wrong and tries to turn things around and begins going to church. But because he does not follow through with the demands of the Devil, the Blackman himself takes Tom away on horseback.

Important Passages

“About the year 1727, just at the time when earthquakes were prevalent in New England, and shook many tall sinners down upon their knees, there lived near this place a meager miserly fellow of the name of Tom Walker. He had a wife as miserly as himself; they were so miserly that they even conspired to cheat each other” (Page 1).

“Finding Tom so squeamish on this point, he did not insist upon it, but proposed instead that he should turn usurer; the devil being extremely anxious for the increase of usurers, looking upon them as his peculiar people.

To this no objections were made, for it was just to Tom’s taste.
“You shall open a broker’s shop in Boston next month,” said the black man.
“I’ll do it to-morrow, if you wish,” said Tom Walker.
“You shall lend money at two per cent. a month.”
“Egad, I’ll charge four!” replied Tom Walker.
“You shall extort bonds, foreclose mortgages, drive the merchant to bankruptcy-”
“I’ll drive him to the d–l,” cried Tom Walker, eagerly.
“You are the usurer for my money!” said the black legs, with delight. “When will you want the rhino?”
“This very night.”
“Done!” said the devil.
“Done!” said Tom Walker.
So they shook hands, and struck a bargain” (Page 5)

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter

The Scarlett Letter is an idealistic book for romanticism beliefs. It provides nature as a refuge (Hester and Dimmesdale talking in the woods about their relationship with Pearl in the background), suspension of disbelief/unlikely characterization (Chillingsworth being fueled by revenge and once Dimmesdale dies he dies too, Pearl’s fascination with Hester’s A, Pearl as a whole being so innocent to the world around her), and fascination with the past (references to The Devil and Tom Walker and The Crucible).


“Mother,” said little Pearl, “the sunshine does not love you. It runs away and hides itself, because it is afraid of something on your bosom. . . . It will not flee from me, for I wear nothing on my bosom yet!”

“Nor ever will, my child, I hope,” said Hester.

“And why not, mother?” asked Pearl, stopping short. . . . “Will it not come of its own accord, when I am a woman grown?” (183)

Explanation: Pearl is shown to be very interested in Hester’s A throughout the whole book from not coming over the brook when Hester isn’t wearing the A to continuously asking where and why her mother has the A. She in this passage says she can’t wait to get her’s and doesn’t understand why Hester snaps at her that she doesn’t want one.


“Nothing was more remarkable than the change which took place, almost immediately after Mr. Dimmesdale’s death, in the appearance and demeanour of the old man known as Roger Chillingworth.” (231).

Explination: This is suspension of disbelief because at the instant dimmesdale had shown the crowd his A, also on his chest, chillingsworth dropped dead. He died because there was no more revenge to be dealt to Dimmesdale therefore no more point in living.


“Nature” by Ralph Waldo Emerson

1) The first topic for review is individualism and where Emerson focuses on isolation and complete solitude in nature. The second topic for review is to discuss is the way Emerson talks about the importance of imagination when going in nature and how it makes the experience of nature much more worthwhile. The third topic for review would be to focus upon the points where he stresses observing nature for self-knowledge to gain intuition. The main idea of nature is that to recognize connection with the universe, you must go into nature.

2) Key Passages

“We mean the integrity of impression made by manifold natural objects. It is this which distinguishes the stick of timber of the wood cutter from the tree of the poet” (Emerson 184).

“In the wilderness, I find something more dear and connate than in streets or villages. In the tranquil landscape, and especially in the distant line of the horizon, man beholds somewhat as beautiful of his own nature” (Emerson 186).

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