After the death of James I in 1625, the new monarch Charles I took religious persecutionto a new level. He was asked by the Parliament to sign the petition of rights but hecontinued to show open disregard to Parliament and people. He also sufferedunsuccessful foreign expeditions to France etc. After the Civil War in 1642, there was adivision into the Cavaliers or Royalists (Clergy, nobility etc, those in favor of the King)and Roundheads or Parliamentarians (middle class etc those were in favor of theParliament). The Civil War helped the Puritans to set up the Commonwealth.
OliverCromwell was able to galvanize a military dictatorship during Protectorate up until 1660when Monarchy was restored.Puritans came to American land in search of religious freedom from the AnglicanChurch or the High Church and the persecution of the puritans under the King andQueen of the time. The first Puritan or Pilgrim settlement is at Plymouth. The Puritanshad huge cultural and political role in crystallizing the American life.
There importednotions regarding religion and Enlightenment form the bedrock of new settlementculture.The prominent writers of the age are William Bradford, John Winthrop, Edward Tayloretc. William Bradford wrote extensively about Puritan life in terms of honest and hardworking folks. He celebrated the heroism of the simple or ordinary people.John Winthrop also described the various enterprises of the Puritan life with spiritualitybeing the ultimate objective. In routine life there were activities like governance, tradingand farming.
The most prominent writer of the age in England was John Milton with works like"Paradise Lost" and "Paradise Regained". Some other works are John Bunyan's "ThePilgrim's Progress", Walton's "Complete Angler" and Sir Thomas Browne's "ReligioMedici".Here are the main characteristics of the literature of the age:1-GenresFirst person narratives were commonplace in the writing of this age especially in theforms of journals and diaries.There were personal accounts of early American colonists depicting tales of traveling tothe new lands, immigration, and everyday struggle. These acted as bequest to be handeddown the generations to come in the future.
As many American settlers had left theirfamilies back in England, letter also became a popular form of writing.The main genres of writing included religious sermons, historical narrative, personaljournals and poetry.2-ThemesThe common themes include religious and political idealism. There is also insistence onpracticalism and pragmatism of day to day life. The religious discourse emphasizes onthe concept of predestination and inevitability of sin and strong sense of guilt andshame.
There is heavy usage of symbolism especially from the religious scripture. The age isknown for heavy influence of Biblical text, for example Old Testament and books like thebook of Jeremiah. The genre known as ‘Jeremiads’, was split into three portions. Thefirst extolled the faith of the past generations, the second denigrated the sins of thepresent age and the third make appeals for repentance and contrition.There was influence of natural phenomena like earthquakes, fires, floods etc as thepeople of the age were interested in learning about nature and the signs for God’s designin nature.
Other thematic works included the idea of reformation or regeneration. Unity and freechoice and order were also topical manifestations. The concept of struggle between theWorld and spirituality was also exploredAs most families visited the Church and attended religious sermons, the writing itselfreflects Biblical style of construction.There was also demonization of the native Indians who were described as followers ofSatanism.3-Writing StyleThe writing style of the age was predominantly plain with simple sentences andlanguage. Metaphorical constructions were in limited use and excessive ornamentationor dramatic appeals were discouraged. Symbolism from scripture was used to make thesermons etc impactful.
The main motive was to tell the truth of Godly existence in a commonly understandableform. Therefore, use of Greek mythology or forms of classical literature was avoided.Use of fictional elements was limited to the extent of blasphemy.Puritans believed that literature should not be used for entertainment.
It must used inthe service of religious of discourse. Puritan writers like Anne Bradstreet and JohnWinthrop wrote extensively about spirituality.They shared their own spiritual journeys. The aim was to popularize the Puritan beliefsand impose their vision a new social order. They wanted to motivate by creating anallusion to that ideal society.
Among these works, there is Winthrop’s "Model of Christian Charity," which wasactually a sermon and used the popular metaphor "City Upon a Hill" in Abella Covenant.It is still referenced by many American politicians.4-PoetryPoets used sonnets especially the likes of Anne Bradstreet (considered to be firstAmerican poet) etc. This was a continuation of the sonnet writing in the Elizabethan ageand the works of Shakespeare etc."The Author to Her Book" by Anne Bradstreet is an excellent example of such sonnets.Bradstreet used a very European poetic style and avoided getting into squabbles withthe criticism of the clergy at the time.With the beginning of Restoration period (after the monarchy was re-established in1660) poets like John Dryden etc brought some creativity back to Puritan poetry.