In the early years of American History, literature commonly reflected the colonial culture, the native culture, and the imperialistic ideals of the time period. Imperialistic culture often conflicted with native culture, and by reading the stories of both sides it is easy to understand why an unwillingness to either assimilate or accept other cultures causes conflict. But a more fascinating similarity exists in the human themes in all these stories written around the beginning of the 18th century. Sometimes these themes are more subtle, such as human will to conquer in Columbus’s imperialism.
The majority of these themes, however, revolve around how people respond, and how they think. While not a part of colonial history, Native American stories offer explanations of the natural world from a much different lens than that of the Puritans.
Their stories were used to help them explain where everyday items and concepts, such as the peace- pipe or the story itself came from. While in contrast, the colonial stories hoped to explain why the author found themselves in the situation they were in.
Colonial writing was much more individualistic. Native American Origin Stories may be apt to compare here; however, the cultural and stylistic differences in the writing outweigh the one thematic similarity. The writings of Anne Bradstreet, Mary Rowlandson, and Jonathan Edwards, all share themes of human response, and come from a common origin-colonial New England. While all three works reflect the strong puritan and colonial values of their time, each contains the timeless ways people respond to tragedy, and the ways people attempt to explain their world.
Since these three authors come from a similar origin, they share ideas and topics reflective of their time. They are all colonists from the north, meaning that they share strong puritan values. They also show some colonial values; however, Edward’s writing focusses mostly on Puritanism. Bradstreet’ writing has overarching themes of the struggles of being a woman in colonial New England which is unique to her writing. Even though Rowlandson’s work comes from the same perspective as Bradstreet’s, she does little to challenge these struggles as Bradstreet does in some of her poems.
But more importantly, Bradstreet’s works has the same Puritan beliefs of predestination and God’s interference with everyday life. Her work shares a similarity with Edward’s-and Rowlandson to a lesser extent-in that both look as to why certain events happen to them, and choose God as the answer. In Bradstreet’s Here Follows Some Verses upon the Burning of Our House, she accepts that believes that God caused the fire which burned her house down saying “His name that gave and took,/ That laid my goods now in the dust” (13-14). She believes that God had caused this destruction because of the Puritan believe that God is involved drastically involved in human affairs.
Likewise, in Mary Rowlandson’s The Sovereignty and Goodness of God, the author believed it was God’s will for Native American attack on her village to happen, but still she could not help “but admire at the wonderfull power and goodness of God” (231). Contemporary readers may find it strange that these Puritans were content believing that a God was simultaneously causing destruction and goodness in their lives.
It’s worth noting another similarity between these two authors: both faced prejudice as women. This is evident in Bradstreet’s poems as she speaks directly to the issue, but Rowlandson’s prejudice was more implicit the preamble to The Sovereignty and Goodness of God, written by another author, has to explain that Rowlandson’s story is worth reading even though she is a woman. In The Soverignty and Goodness of God, Rowlandson describes God protecting her in her journey in finding her family. It was worthy of reading to male puritans because of how well it described God—showing that people in this time period and location favored God over egalitarianism.
Edward’s sermon Sinner in the Hands of an Angry God both explains and influences the Puritan belief of predestination, saying that “the misery you are exposed to is that which God will inflict to that end, that he might show what the wrath of Jehovah is” (355). Influential to Puritans at the time, this sermon shows the people’s fear of God brought about by earlier Calvinist ideas. However, it wouldn’t be possible that that Edwards could have directly influenced by his sermon since it was written around 1741, long after both Bradstreet and Rowlands had died. Edward’s view of God’s influence in everyday life is much more dark and fearful than the other two authors. While Bradstreet would often be hopeful in her belief of God, as she states in Here Follows Some Verses…, God was a “mighty Architect, /With glory richly furnished” (43-44). In contrast, Edwards feared God “is not only able to cast wicked men into hell, but he can most easily do it” (348).
Even though one view is more extreme than the other, both are a reflection of Puritanism in colonial America. Jonathan Edward’s Personal Narrative it also has a main topic and theme of his “two seasons of awakening” (334). Looking back now, would seem this quote was analogy for the two great awakenings that would later happen in the United States. One final connection for Edward’s work to the others is that he was deeply educated and “clearly flourished in school” (331). One could say this shows that nearly all people in the community, educated or not, had deep roots in Puritanism.
And while all these stories connect to the same Puritan ideas of predestination, they all connect in a more subtle, timeless, thematic way: the human attempt to understand the natural world. This attempt is first brought about by tragedy in Bradstreet’s and Rowlandson’s writings, and later by physically aging in Edward’s writing. It goes to show that throughout history people have had similar ways of attempting to understand their experiences, as well as their relationship with God—the most common belief system of the time.
Bradstreet’s In Memory of My Dear Grandchild Anne Bradstreet Who Deceased… and Rowlandson’s The Soverignty and Goodness of God both share experiences of loss. Bradstreet writes on the death of grandchild with brevity, while Rowlandson writes on the much more horrific murder of her village leaving her “Children gone…Relations and Friends gone” (222). Both find the same comfort in these tragedies-God will make it better. After the death of her grandchild, Bradstreet simply takes comfort believing her grandchild was “with thy Saviour art in endless bliss” (18). While Rowlandson spends less time trying to make herself feel better, instead she turns to thanking God for what good happened to her. Rowlandson even goes so far as to chastise herself for being not faithful enough, saying that she “remembered how careless I [Rowlandson] had been in Gods holy time…how righteous it was with God to cut off the thread of my life” (223).
People often blame themselves for the bad things that happen to the people they love. But like Bradstreet, Rowlandson also took comfort, as so many people even today do, with the bible. As Rowlandson would “ly down on the ground…that comfortable Scripture would often come to my [Rowlandson’s] mind…with great mercies will I gather thee” (237). When dealing with significant loss such as death, people sometimes turn to God, or they take a look at themselves and the situation they find themselves in, hoping to make a change in them. Rowlandson’s writing talks of finding peace believing in an ideology-evidence as to why so many follow religion today. After Bradstreet’s home burned down in Here Follows Some Verses…, she persisted by claiming her items were “all’s vanity” (36). Bradstreet would no longer take everyday life in vain as she had before; survivors of tragedy often have a new appreciation for life.
Even though no significant tragedy happened to Edwards, he still found himself facing internal conflict when contemplating his relationship with God. Growing up, Edwards was “deeply religious” (331), and found himself later struggling with the idea of God. He was sick, and when recovering he “had great and violent inward struggles” (335). Seeing as how later Edwards would be an influential figure in Puritanism, it is interesting to see that he-like many other leaders was not always a part of his cause. It is unfortunate that neither Bradstreet nor Rowlandson contemplated their beliefs-having nearly the same relationship with God before and after their tragedies.
Edwards was able to speak on the idea of enlightenment—relating to a timeless idea that solving internal conflict brings peace; describing when he felt “a sweet sense of the glorious majesty and grace of God” (337); solving this internal conflict, Edwards saw “the appearance of everything…seemed to be, as it were, a calm, sweet cast, or appearance of everything in divine glory” (337). The reason people of anytime period turn towards religion are for the comfort and peace of mind that it brings. In Edward’s case, he was able to find peace of mind accepting God. For the other two authors, their preceding Puritanism helped them deal with the loss of loved ones, while Edwards did not need a life-changing event to spark his interest in Christianity.
The experiences of these writers of their puritan time on the surface level, but overall contain thematic elements that could be found in writing from any time period. All three writers elucidate certain aspects of their colonial lives, such as Edward’s education at “Yale Collegiate School” (331)-people in New England were the first in the colonies to greatly value education. Even though all three authors found belief system to better help them perceive their world— likely because they all came from nearly the same place at nearly the same time. Edward’s fearful sermon might prove, however, that not all belief systems are for the best. It still goes to show that people will always want to understand what it all means.