American literature of the 17th and 18th centuries continues to be one of the least explored periods of the history of the world’s writing. At the very beginning of the development of American literary tradition, there were a number of different themes that prevailed in works of this time. For instance, the genre of Christian preaching was especially widespread during this era, turned out to be particularly important. The poetic tradition was also extremely abundant since it was the time where Puritan poetry was born.
The religious controversies that frequently occurred during this time were some of the most important themes of early American literature. As it was stated earlier, Puritan poetry was eminently religious. Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God is the perfect example of Puritan theology, which is extremely strict to the reader. In his work, Edwards emphasized the absolute beauty of God’s holiness (Edwards, 2018). According to his beliefs, neither good deeds nor loyal faith leads to salvation. Instead, for a human, redemption is seen as the unconditional grace of God. A man does not control his destiny and always has to rely on God’s mercy. This philosophy is typical for Puritan preaching that warns of judgment that is looming over unbelievers. Some of the topics also include discussions about the mercy of God, who keeps his enemies from being cast down immediately into hell.
Nevertheless, even though themes Christianity dominated in literature, poems about love and simple life were also present. For example, Verses upon the Burning of our House is one of the works of Anna Bradstreet. This phenomenon is particularly interesting because it does not only describe the joys of love, the birth of children, and other simple things; it is also written by a woman. Nevertheless, the author still interprets such events through the lenses of the Puritan faith. Bradstreet speaks about salvation, the Lord’s providence, and how God fulfills his will (Gale, 2016). On the other hand, her poems are mostly personal and, therefore, cannot be compared to preaching and other religious works.
Another interesting genre that emerged at the beginning of American literary development is journaling. Aside from A History of Jamestown, Of Plymouth Plantation is one of such works, and despite the fact it was initially a document, it remains one of the most authoritative reports that are valuable for history. It contains a clear and compelling story of how the colony began its establishment. However, even in this historical document, Bradford manages to touch upon the topics of Christianity. First of all, the author speaks at length about similarities between Christianity and Stoicism as their moralities are equivalent to each other (Rietveld, 2017). In addition, he discusses the history of early Christianity and expresses his concerns about the deepest misunderstanding of each other by Christians.
The last but not least genre is autobiography and Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave perfectly captured the era of abolitionism and the fight against slavery. By publishing this work, the author made a significant contribution to the liberation of Black Americans from the slave market. Moreover, in his story, Douglas demonstrates that it is possible to go through the difficult path of breaking free. From being a slave, he managed to become someone who is capable of playing other roles, such as the head of the family, a fighter for liberation, and a writer.
Edwards, J. (2018). Sinners in the hands of an angry God. E-artnow.
Gale, C. L. (2016). A study guide for Anne Bradstreet’s “Upon the burning of our house, July 10th, 1666”. Gale, Cengage Learning.
Rietveld, E. L. (2017). Governor William Bradford’s relationship with antiquity. Bachelor’s thesis, Radboud University Nijmegen. Radboud University: Educational Repository.