The role of religion played a major role in early American literature. Many different authors form a variety of time period’s incorporate religious ideas and philosophies into their writings. A few authors from different time periods that did this were Johnathan Edwards, Anne Bradstreet, and Henry David Thoreau. Anne Bradstreet was a Puritan. Much like all the other Puritans of her time she examined her conscience daily and that they always felt that they were humbled by God’s creations and powers. One poem in which she expresses her religion’s ideas and philosophies was “Contemplations”.
This poem was about very religious. In this poem she talks about her admiration of God and how she and all humans are humbled by God’s creations. She says, “The higher on the glistening sun I gazed. Whose beams was shaded by the leafy tree; The more I looked, the ore I grew amazed, and softly said, ‘What glory like to thee? ’ Soul of this world, this universe’s eye, No wonder some made thee a deity; had I not better known, alas, the same had I”. This quote means that a tree because of its beauty amazes her.
Also, she is saying that the thing responsible for creating such a thing must just as beautiful if not the most beautiful on the earth. The self- examination part of her religion part comes into play because this poem was very long and confusing; much like how I believed her life was. She had rheumatic fever and through out her life she suffered from periods of fatigue and faced death eight times by giving birth to eight children. I think that she wrote the poem to represent her life she felt that her life was very long and drawn out.
She also saw that there were a lot of complications in her life, which is why she made it confusing and why it jumps from topic to topic. Johnathan Edwards was a very educated man and a religious one as well. He believed in personal perfection. Edwards also became the head of his grandfather’s church when he died. Edwards tried to restore Puritan beliefs into the Christians of his time. He wanted to convert them from believers in the Christian religion into people who were genuinely motivated by their religious beliefs. This is why his writings have any sort of religious relevance.
Everything that he wrote was meant to be sermon to make believe more in the religion. In “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”, he does just that. In this work he uses hell to scare people into believing that if you do something wrong that you will go to hell. This scared the people because most people didn’t know better and they really thought hat was a place below the surface of the earth where one wold go spend eternity in a fire pit. He was saying that if you believe and repent you will be saved, but if not then you will burn.
The third author, Thoreau, really doesn’t discuss religion or popular religion (Christianity) at all. In, “Walden” he talks nothing of religion or god. It is almost as if he is starting his own religion of free thought and free land. In the introduction it even said that many of his followers were considered decibels. Walden his kind of like his bible. It says how he thinks should be and how if people choose to follow his ideas should think. Although his works are more inspired by political and social ideas I think that these became his religion.
Walden” is an eighteen-page manifesto on Thoreau’s outlook on life. One pattern that I see occurring within these three readings is the decrease in true religion. When I say true religion I mean people that actually believe in the religion, not people who practice it. “Contemplations” was a poem that Bradstreet wrote that pretty much aligned with what puritan people of her time would write. Also, the ideas that she wrote about where typical of the original Puritans. The idea of being humbled by god and self-examination were running beliefs at this time and most believed in these.
Although Edwards’, “Sinners in the Hands in the Angry Gods” was sermon, I think that it had different intentions than Bradstreet’s. Bradstreet was writing about her religion and its beliefs. Where as Edwards was trying to get people to come back to the way the Puritans used to believe in and practice their religion. I think that this not only shows a difference in writing styles, but it is also a sign of the times. It is saying that people in America started seeing that religion wasn’t as important. Not that its beliefs were insignificant, but I think that they began to realize that living a pious life was becoming impractical.
I think Thoreau is a perfect example of this movement towards no religion. Thoreau never really associated himself with any denomination of Christianity or any religion for that matter. He simply lived his life how he thought he should live it. He didn’t think that any sort of texts or document should tell you how to live your life. He wasn’t writing a sermon, I feel he was just writing to write what he felt and if anyone believed the same as he did, great, but if not, “oh well”. 2)The issue of race and race relations was also a preeminent topic in this course.
Many of these works dealt with how American Indians and African Americans perceived themselves and how others perceived them. A few authors that dealt with these topics were James Fenmore Cooper, Phyllis Wheatley, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and William Apess. James Fenmore Cooper and William Apess both wrote about American Indians. William Apess was married to an American Indian and wrote in a style that portrayed American racism towards Indians and Cooper wrote fictional novels. Cooper wrote “The Pioneers” which was a novel about Natty Bumpo, a white man that was raised by Indians.
In this book he is basically showing only signs of racism towards the Indians. He says tat there used to be “bad” Indians, but now they are able to distinguish the difference between “good” and “bad” Indians. He says that Indians that were converted Christians and lead civil life styles similar to that of the white man were considered “good” and those who were uncivilized and barbaric were uncivilized. Although this book was fictional it still showed a point of view the white man. The ideas of “good” and “bad” Indian was an idea that floated through American white society at this time.
Apess wrote, “An Indian’s Looking-Glass for the White Man”. This was intended to show how the Indians felt about the white man and how the Indians saw themselves. He says that the white man saw the Indians as inferior creatures that had no real god given attributions. He also says that the Indians began to believe this true. He says, “… they are made to believe that they are minors and have not the abilities given from god to take care of themselves”. Also he says that the women were mistreated, greatly mistreated. They were raped and beaten by the white man.
He says, “while the females are left without protection and are seduced by white men, and are finally left to be common prostitutes for t hem and to be destroyed by that burning, fiery curse, that has swept millions, both of red and white men, into the grave with sorrow and disgrace-rum”. Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”. This book is fictional book that was made purely for entertainment. I think that this book was very racist. It shows all of the African Americans in it as dumb slaves. She portrays them as having zero intelligence.
The section on “Topsy” was incredibly racist. Topsy was darker and not a mulatto so when her dialogue was written it was always in slang as opposed to Eliza’s and Cassie’s dialogues (who were both mulattos) the dialogue were almost perfect English. Basically here Stowe is saying that the whiter an African American was, the more civilized and more accepted they were. This idea runs parallel to Cooper’s ideas of “good” and “bad” slaves. Also, she makes it sound like the African Americans are happy to be in America and that they are better off for doing so.
I think that Phyllis Wheatley would greatly disagree with that statement. In “On Being Brought from Africa to America” she expresses her discontent with America and its beliefs. In this poem she says that she was ripped from her land and brought to place where she was hated. She also says that if she was Christian she wouldn’t be as hated, but she knows that Christianity is just a mask and that the whites will always see a Negro before they see a Christian. “ ‘Their color is a diabolic dye. ’ Remember, Christians, Negroes black as Cain, may be refined, and join the angelic train. ”
I think that these debates about race are brought played out in texts as a counter reaction to something that was previously written. Like Cooper and Stowe made best sellers out of their diluted stories of how the slaves and the Indians and slaves mistreated. Apess an Wheatley counteract that by saying that their people were treated a lot worse than it was portrayed and that no one knows about it. I think that the notions of race and inter-race relations have definitely changed over the years. Now a mixed couple is perfectly acceptable and racism exists but it is not on the level that it was.