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The Influence of Puritanism on American Literature


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The Influence of Puritanism on American Literature

 

Introduction

Religion can be defined as a belief or a perception that follows certain moral code of ethics from a certain cultural or social perspective. It is sense of worship and faith in the holy doctrines of any community and identity. From the historical point of view, Puritan of 16th and 17th century in England was whoever wanted to seek sanctity i.e. purity of worship and doctrine, this happened mostly on the parties that opposed the reformation of the Church of England. Some believed to justify separation from the England Church because of the Elizabethan Religious Settlement. This resulted to puritans through historians and criticism. However, only some Puritans preferred separating from the English Church, which was currently under King James I. Most Puritans only wanted to change certain aspects of the church.

 

            The word puritan is derived from pure or holy. It was originally used to describe certain century sect of strictly legalistic characters. Currently, the word Puritan is now applied unevenly to a number of Protestant churches from the late 16th century to the present. Puritans were originally being abused through the term. It was a term of abuse that first surfaced in the late sixteen century. It was an abusive in that precise men were not fallible what is contrary to a true society. The word Puritan thus always referred to a type of religious belief, rather than a particular religious sect. To reflect that the term encompasses a variety of ecclesiastical bodies and theological positions, scholars today increasingly prefer to use the term as a common noun or adjective. puritan rather than Puritan.

             Rise of influence

Although, all influenced by Calvinism, Puritans were varied on Church organization because it was believed that they were intelligent and more knowledgeable. [1]This reflects the rise of the movement, which developed through several periods. Puritans shared a doctrine that all existing churches had rotten behaviors in practice. First, there was contact with roman pagan civilizations and secondly embracing deeds and likeness of kings and popes. They all proposed for a restructuring and purifying of church practice through biblical supremacy and the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers in order to avoid corrupted practices.

            Because the puritans were regarded as simply the informed, committed and relatively co-radical Protestants, they wanted the Church of England to resemble more closely the Protestant churches of Geneva by abandoning by decision some malpractices. This is because Puritans objected to ornaments and ritual in churches such as vestments, musical organs, and genuflection. They regarded this ritual worship as idolatrous, denouncing them as popish imitation and rags.  They also objected to ecclesiastical courts. They refused to endorse completely all of the ritual deeds and formulas of the Book of Common recite. The imposition of its liturgical order by legal force and inspection are some of the misdeeds that accelerated Puritanism into a definite opposition movement. These radical movements were ignored by the dominant faction in the Church of England and were given the name Puritan, in mockery of the radicals' apparent obsession of sanctifying the Church.

 

 Due to their aggressive belief, Puritans became instrumental in a number of new sectors. They operated and dominated the export and import business. Puritans were eager to colonize the New World. This was accelerated by the flourishing of the trans-Atlantic trade with America; Puritans in England became very wealthy. Similarly, this influenced the artisan classes to become increasingly Puritan. Therefore, the economic issues of the English Civil War that included tax levies, liberalization of royal charters etc, the political issues of the English Civil War i.e. purchasing of peerages, increasing discontent between the House of Lords and the people, rebellion over the attempt to introduce a Divine right of kings by Charles I), and the religious tensions were all bound together into a general dispute that pitted Church of England Cavaliers against Puritan Roundheads.

 Modern influence in American literature

Some of the modern influences in American literature include

1) Cultural awareness:

Cultural awareness can be defined as the personal development of understanding and sensitivity of other ethnicities or ethnic groups. It usually involves the person as an individual since it involve personal changes in terms of attitudes and values. Cultural awareness as such also refers or involves the quality of flexibility and openness that people or groups of persons develop in relation to other people. For cultural awareness to be existent it must be supported or supplemented by cultural knowledge and cultural sensitivity.

 Cultural knowledge thus is the familiarization with certain or selected cultural characteristics. These may include cultural behaviors, belief systems, values and history. According to Franklin, for his part, provided an important literary bridge between the late Colonial and early National periods of American intellectual culture. Franklin’s Autobiography, the sort of self-improvement tract preferred by the early Puritans, used formulaic conventions of the spiritual autobiography borrowed from them while espousing his own worldly wisdoms. Franklin, who’s Do-good work of 1722 echoed Cotton Maher’s Boniface’s of 1710, expropriated the Protestant/Puritan work ethic to serve his secular humanism, which embraced the ethical morality of Puritanism and modernized it in the process, making it possible for subsequent generations of American readers to inherit the ethical legacy of Puritanism without having to embrace its spiritual believes.

 This ethical legacy, as elaborated by Clifford Ship ton, includes a tradition of dissent, which obviates as being historical any notion of a Puritan orthodoxy. One of Puritanism’s chief tenets was expressed in the favorite Biblical text of New England ministers, enjoining us to call no man father. A theological egalitarianism, which decreed as its primary requirement an individual experience of God’s grace, ramified into an underappreciated emphasis on freedom of the mind, a freedom that was unique then, and which today is far from universal.

 Cultural sensitivity is defined as the human trait of knowing that there do exist cultural similarities as well as differences and in addition of this accepting them without assigning values to those cultural differences e.g. good or bad or right and wrong.

 Issues of cultural awareness are realized and deeply felt by minority groups or groups that have been discriminated against. Being a southerner and an African-American for that matter there is a lot that one has to consider. This is due to the fact that African-Americans and especially those of the former southern territories have faced discrimination and segregation for a long time. It is within my region that the fight against the Jim Crow laws was strongest and in advocating for our rights we had to lose some of ours like martin Luther king.

Being an African-Methodist Christian follower, this means that there is still some form of segregation I will still face from the wider community especially from non African-Americans within my locality.

African Americans are an ethnic group in the United States whose ancestral homes are mainly in sub-Saharan Africa. African Americans just like many other ethnic groups in the United States migrated into the United States for over the last decade. Unlike other immigrants African Americans in the United States did not migrate into the United States out of their own volition.

The earliest African American immigrants in the United States were actually slaves who were shipped into the United States in order for them to work in white plantation farms. Most of these were usually captured forcefully  and then sold to slave merchants along the east African and west African coast and then traded to slave ships and brought across the Atlantic ocean in what was famously referred to as the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Although a majority of African Americans have an African ancestry there are around 17% of African Americans who have a European ancestry and there is still a significant group that have an Indian or Native American ancestry.

African Americans have found themselves segregated against when it comes to the family unit where for a long time many other ethnic communities in the United States sometimes considered inter-marriages to African Americans a crime and sometimes they would even kill their kinsmen if they were found out to be involved with African Americans. Besides this African Americans have faced vigilante violence especially in the form of lynching during the Jim Crow era. The Jim Crow era is a period of time when the Jim Crow laws were in existence.

 2) Gender roles

Cultural identifications have always had a direct impact on gender roles within the American ethnic group. Within the culture there are roles that are reserved for males and females alike.[2] Although due to modern changes these roles are increasingly becoming universal. Initially women were supposed to cook and maintain the houses while the men were supposed to maintain or provide household security. In addition men are supposed to pull out chairs for their spouses in dinner parties as well as open car and house doors for them. On the other side women were supposed to serve their men first before serving themselves. Family life as the holy bible states, according to Puritan belief, the order of creation were simple and good i.e. the world was created for mans benefit, and the man was created for God. It is argued that God did not create the world with some beings being more equal than others or subordinate to others, he applied the same principle to his creation of human society. Therefore, the Puritans honored hierarchy among men as divine order. This order presupposed God’s appointment of mankind to live in Societies in the order of family, secondly church, and lastly the Common-wealth. Order in the family was a fundamental structured Puritan belief. Puritans usually migrated to New England as a family unit, a pattern different from other colonies where young, single men often came on their own. Puritan men of the generation of the Great Migration (1630–1640) believed that a good Puritan wife did not linger in Britain but encouraged her husband in his great service to God. This is a believe that is widely embraced in American literature.

 The importance of social order has great foundation in the superiority of husband over wife, parents over children, and masters over servants in the family. Puritan marriage choices were influenced by young people’s inclination, parents, and by the social status of the persons involved. Upon finding a suitable match, husband and wife in America followed the necessary steps to legitimize their marriage under several clauses in the American constitution. This include legality of the matter like  a contract, comparable to today’s practice of engagement, secondly, the proclamation of this contract to the world, thirdly there is the execution of the contract at a church and involvement of the church congregation. Fourth, a celebration of the event at the home of the groom and the sexual intercourse and child bearing. For example, the complex question of the connection between the culture of modern USA and the world of puritans continue to be the part of wide research on nation identity. And within the wide set issues concerning the subject of the matter surrounding marriage, sexuality and the gender identity. Much has to be done in order to unfold the attitude toward sexuality and gender in American history. There is analysis of pre purposive dichotomy between puritan’s studies and the study of American rich ethic diversity. The essay indicates some of the psychological, racial and social –economic consequences toward certain attitude concerning sex and sexuality that appear to be derived from puritan’s beginning. A case or sex scandal involving Bill Clinton and Lewinsky illustrates the continuity impact of puritan structure of imagination on the natural culture, shifts and developments of legacies.

 

It is believed that problems with consummation can terminate a marriage especially if a groom proved impotent, the contract between the couple dissolved through an enactment enforced by the courts. The courts could also enforce the duty of a husband to support his wife, as English Common Law provided that when a woman married, she gave all her property to her husband and abide as per marital obligations, losing her separate civil identity in the welfare of a husband. In so doing, she legally accepted her role as managing her husband’s household, fulfilling her duty of being at home, helping in  educating her children, keeping and improving what is got by the work of the husband.

 In Puritan united state of America, the family was the fundamental unit of society, the place where Puritans emphasized and perfected religious, ethical, and social values and expectations of the community at large. The English Puritan William Gouge indicated that a family is a little Church, and a little common-wealth as is currently regarded and at least a lively representation thereof, whereby trial may be made of such as are fit for any place of authorities, or of subjection in Church or commonwealth. Or rather it can be regarded as a school wherein the first principles and grounds of rules and regulations are learned and observed whereby men are fitted to greater matters in Church or common-wealth analogy. The great relationships within the nuclear family, along with interactions between the family and the larger community, distinguished Puritans from other early inhabitants. Moral authority and obedience characterized the relationship between Puritan parents and their children. The importance of Proper love meant proper discipline. In every society essentially without police, the family was the basic unit of control and supervision. It is believed that disciplining disobedient children mostly was derived from a spiritual concern. This system resulted to setting of some clauses to protect the rights of children, elders, and citizens at large. This is a system that is highly embraced in American society. It is known that a breakdown in family rule indicated a disregard of God’s order. As cited in the quotation, Fathers and mothers have ‘disordered and disobedient children, said the Puritan Richard Green ham, because they have been disobedient children to the Lord and disordered to their parents when they were young. Thus disobedient parents meant disobedient children. Because the duty of early childcare fell almost exclusively on women, a woman’s salvation necessarily depended upon the observable goodness of her child.

 3) Relationship to authority

The African-American culture has always taught all individuals to be respectful of others. By doing this everyone would play a role in mitigating or preventing social violence and conflicts. In addition by being respectful one would be respected in return and one would be revered within the society.

 4) Expressions of affection

 There is also the issue of the expression of affections. In this field people are supposed to behave in a certain mode when it comes to personal relationships. Depending on the nature and or age of somebody there is a way or a certain code that needs to be followed when dealing with them. The way a person greets his age mates and or friends is not the same way that a person greets his/her elders and or parents. In addition to this there is a limit on the level of Pads (public display of affection) that one is supposed to display in public. Hugging, pecking or light kisses arte allowed

but long deep kisses are not allowed to be exposed in public areas especially in areas where there are little children.

Child-parent relationships (including discipline) Puritans connected the discipline of a child to later readiness for conversion. Accordingly, parents attempted to check their affectionate feelings toward a disobedient child, at least after the child was about two years old, in order to break his or her will. This suspicious regard of “fondness” and heavy emphasis on obedience placed complex pressures on the Puritan mother. While Puritans expected mothers to care for their young children tenderly, a mother who doted could be accused of failing to keep God present. Furthermore, Puritan belief prescribed that a father’s more distant governance check the mother’s tenderness once a male child reached the age of 6 or 7 so that he could bring the child to God’s authority.

 The home gave women the freedom to exercise religious and moral authority, performing duties not open to them in public (recall that after the banishment of Anne Hutchinson, most congregations did not permit women to speak in church). The Puritan family structure at once encouraged some measure of female authority while supporting family patriarchy.

 Concerning discipline there is an acceptable or set limit on the way and or who should discipline children. The way children are disciplined goes along way in determining what kind of a person the child will be when they grow up. These children are made to understand that when they err they will have to be disciplined to bring them back on track. Through this process children are made to understand that they should always act in the right way to avoid being punished.

5) Importance of time

 To succeed in life one must always accomplish his/her tasks on time. This message has been highly emphasized within the African-American culture. As a result everyone who needs to be successful needs to understand and plan his/ her time well in order to accomplish their tasks on time. The issue of sleeping too much is prohibited since it only works in making somebody poorer and poorer.

 5) Centrality of religion

 Within the African-American culture the issue of religion is highly emphasized. Being a Christian, Christianity teaches us that we should always put god first in all our endeavors. This will help us to be successful in life and in addition he will protect us from evils that may come our way. Everyone has a right to belong to a certain culture. Although I would like to associate more with the African American culture, I will have to recognize the fact that the American society is multiracial and thus I have to equally relate not only to the African American culture but I also have to identify with the general American culture. The central tenet of Puritanism was God's supreme authority over human affairs, particularly in the church, and especially as expressed in the Bible. This view led them to seek both individual and corporate conformance to the teaching of the Bible, and it led them to pursue both moral purity down to the smallest detail as well as ecclesiastical purity to the highest level.

 The words of the Bible were the origin of many Puritan cultural ideals, especially regarding the roles of men and women in the community. While both sexes carried the stain of original sin, for a girl, original sin suggested more than the roster of Puritan character flaws. Eve’s corruption, in Puritan eyes, extended to all women, and justified marginalizing them within churches' hierarchical structures. An example is the different ways that men and women were made to express their conversion experiences. For full membership, the Puritan church insisted not only that its congregants lead godly lives and exhibit a clear understanding of the main tenets of their Christian faith, but they also must demonstrate that they had experienced true evidence of the workings of God’s grace in their souls. Only those who gave a convincing account of such a conversion could be admitted to full church membership. Women were not permitted to speak in church after 1636 (although they were allowed to engage in religious discussions outside of it, in various women-only meetings), thus could not narrate their conversions.

 6) Educational goals

  Institutional racism or discrimination is not foreign to American culture. African Americans have been on the receiving end and they have been highly affected by it. On this perspective many African Americans have faced many occupational and educational disadvantages due to ingrained stereotypical views that are still deeply rooted in the American society like blacks are inherently criminals. This has denied many African Americans many privileges enjoyed by other races like a good education, the best occupations as well as a just legal structure. Education

As John Winthrop sailed toward New England in 1630, he exhorted his fellow passengers that the settlement of New England would be like a “City upon a Hill,” a pure community of Christians who would set an example to the rest of the world. To achieve this goal, the colony leaders would educate all Puritans. These men of letters, who viewed themselves as a part of an international world, had attended Oxford or Cambridge (mostly Cambridge) and could communicate with intellectuals all over Europe. Just six years after the first large migration, colony leaders founded Harvard College.

 By the 1670s, all New England colonies (excepting Rhode Island) had passed legislation that mandated the literacy for children. In 1647, Massachusetts passed a law that required towns to hire a schoolmaster to teach writing. Different forms of schooling emerged, ranging from the “dame” or “reading” school, a form of instruction conducted by women in their private homes for small children, to “Latin” schools, a school for boys already literate in English and ready to master grammar through Latin, Hebrew, and Greek. Reading schools would often be the single source of education for girls, whereas boys would leave their reading mistresses to go to the town grammar schools. Indeed, gender largely determined educational practices. Women introduced all children to reading, and men taught boys in higher pursuits. Since girls could play no role in the ministry, and since grammar schools were designed to “instruct youth so far as they may be fitted for the university,” Latin grammar schools did not accept girls (nor did Harvard). Evidence mostly suggests that even in the less ambitious town schools, the lower-tier writing-reading schools mandated for townships of over fifty families, girls could not attend.

 

References:

He enraged the Puritan leaders by criticizing both their intolerance (2007) retrieved on 21st September, available at www.wwnorton.com/

 

Learning of the Puritan Divines (2007) retrieved on 21st September, available at

www.bartleby.com/

 

Puritan reformed spiritually (1993) retrieved on 21st September, available at www.wikipedia.org/     

 

Puritan literature attempted to represent life truly (2007) retrieved on 21st September, available at www.compulsivereader.com/

 

W. P. Trent, & C. Van Doreen (2006) colonial and revolutionary literature, Oxford publishers, Cambridge. Volume XV

 


[1] Ornate and embellished stylistics were distrusted as adornments and adulterations; sensuous tropes and imagery were seen as the literary analogs to the perceived idolatry and ceremonial trappings of the Anglicans and Catholics. “Painted sermons” were an abomination, since they were like painted windows that obscured the clear light of truth, and the “words of wisdom” were privileged over the “wisdom of words.”

[2] If any one object the fresh example of Queen Elizabeth, let them remember that the felicity of her reign was the effect of her submission to her masculine and wise counselors; but wherever male princes are so effeminate as to suffer women of foreign birth and different religions to intermeddle with affairs of state, it is always found to produce sad desolations; and it hath been observed that a French queen never brought any happiness to England.

 

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