From “The Literature of Colonial English Puritanism”

By Philip F. Gura in Teaching the Literatures of Early America, ed. Carla Mulford


·        Is the early colonial literature American, or British?  It was written by British citizens on American soil!   Perry Miller introduced the idea of the Puritan “errand into the wilderness.”  Why did the Puritans come to America?  (1) for economic motives; (2) a sense of mission—to set up an ecclesiastical government as set forth in the New Testament.  A Political regime, possessing power, which would consider its main function to erect, protect, and preserve this polity (church plus state).  The puritan mission is linked to the deteriorating prospects for religious reform in England and, after 1660, to the New Englanders’ increasing sense that they too had failed at reform.  John Winthrop’s Modell of Christian Charity” What are some modern examples?  Afghanistan, Israel, Iran


Purpose of the Mission:  (1) to improve lives, (2) to serve God, (3) increase body of Christ (membership), (preserve posterity from corruption—work out salvation.


Why aren’t we Puritans today?  What went wrong?  (1) prosperity, (2) increase in diverse populations, (3) dissention—Anne Hutchinson and Roger Williams – free to organize their spiritual and political lives in accordance with their understanding of Scripture, New Englanders from an early date often disagreed on matters of ecclesiastical and civil polity.  Unanimity of doctrine was never the rule.


The debate still exists in America:  Are we going to be people of “reason” or people of “spirit.”


Criticisms of Miller’s theory:  (1) Miller relied upon clerical authors instead of the New England population as a whole; (2) unwillingness to examine the more affective dimensions of Puritan theology; (3) gender.


Anne Bradstreet”  “To My Dear Children”


·        How do you define yourself?


ü   Through a theological emphasis?  The Puritans found it difficult to subdue their ego.  This is demonstrated in Anne Bradstreet’s poetry as well as Emily Dickinson’s poetry.  “I’m Nobody, Who Are You?”  Self-effacement versus self-aggrandizement.

ü   Through a familial emphasis?

ü   Through a community emphasis?  There is a conflict between the individual goals and the community goals.  The Puritans’ much vaunted ethic of charity was severely compromised by the colonists’ treatment of Native Americans and those within communities who practiced magic and thus condemned as witches.


·        Why did the Puritans believe in witches?  Folk literature versus high literature.  (What controls the cosmos?)  Narratives of witchcraft, the wilderness, and Native Americans, then, vividly demonstrate that precisely when New England Puritans wrote self-consciously about themselves they frequently juxtaposed the self with things different or other.  The wilderness was potentially as seductive and attractive as it was terrifying.


·       How many of you believe in typology?



Answer these questions:


How did the Europeans come to view themselves as ”Americans?”


How an American self might differ in its self referentiality as well as in its understanding of others, from the Europeans

How concepts of the other framed colonial identity.