ENG 231 (I02)
24 February 2019
The Power of Literature Helps Create the Identity of America
Research done which included “America’s Story from America’s Library” (Lib. of Cong), located on (The Library of Congress) web online services gives the resources to make this statement with confidence that Colonial literature played a significant role in the process of the formation of the new land of discovery presently known as the United States of America. After reading the works of many influential and non-influential people of the time period between 1400 to 1800, one can only conclude that regardless of their ranks in the social class of society, these writers had a powerful hand in influencing the minds of the people, forever changing the foundations of the world. America’s building blocks, which were made up of major issues for which seemed difficult if not impossible at times to address and resolve, involved life threating dangers, sacrifice’s, and prolonged hardships to survive and conquer, all for the sake of an indispensable desire for freedom.
Many nations making up the majority of Europe searched for new opportunities to have more power and influence in world affairs. They set out to explore new lands and create new trading partners and new commodities for which to gain profits. By the discovery of the New World came the vast opportunities to increase their wealth and power. This was not the case nor the purpose for many people that made the decision to leave their homelands and take on the treacherous journey to the harsh uncharted lands of America’s. Their decisions came from fear of persecution from their homeland for the freedom to worship their religions without interference from those who wanted to punish them for their values and beliefs and to force them to conform to the state governed practices of religion.
During this time in history, came the increasing ability to spread literature to a vastly larger number of people than ever before. Those who could and were motivated to write such literature with topics ranging from journals of their voyages and accounts of the real-life news of the day, or to write for the purpose of expressing their thoughts and feelings in a form of art called poetry, is some ways like straw that was needed for helping make bricks for the building of America. Research material made possible by “America’s Story from America’s Library” (Lib. of Cong), located on (The Library of Congress) web online services.
Religious freedoms for some was a major factor in the decision-making process to come to the new land of opportunity. Some of the individuals of that era used their religious beliefs in the form of written works to spread their understandings of their beliefs so that others would have knowledge of such truths according to them. One such work was transcribed by a Frenchman named “Gabriel Sagard” and published by “David Cusick” two centuries later called “The Iroquois Creation Story” (Levine / p.31). The contents of which strike many similarities to the most read book in the world called the Bible.
Other published writings during this period in history with overtones of religion included works from Christopher Columbus whereas the “Letter of Discovery” (p.45), tells of his devotions to God and country and telling the indigenous people that he was assuredly sent from Heaven. Devoted to his religion by making all efforts to convert others to Christianity. John Smith’s chronicles which included “The General History of Virginia, New England, and the Summer Isles” (p.56), repeatedly references his values and beliefs of his God and religion. Through the narratives of William Bradford’s “Of Plymouth Plantation” (p.73), he gives the accounts of the early settlement of Pilgrims that came to the Americas to escape religious persecution. The sermon that was given by John Winthrop and later published in the “Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society” called “A Model of Christian Charity” (p.93), is flowing over with religious tones and beliefs and with a now-famous phrase “a city upon a hill” (p.93)
If religion was of utmost importance in many of the literature pieces of this era the other equally important topics of the period would most certainly be stories of the encounters with the natives as demonstrated in the text from “The Writings of Benjamin Franklin” (Franklin), edited by (Albert Henry Smyth) called “Remarks Concerning the Savages of North America” (p.216) which demonstrates the differences between the two cultures and the opinions that many had at the time concerning the natives.
Equality, slavery, and religion were of importance in the writing of literature known as poetry by two Lady’s of this time period that for the most part was unheard of for a woman in the social fabric of the day. Anne Bradstreet and Phillis Wheatley were among the first woman in American Literature publications but notably, Phillis Wheatley was also the first black slave to have published written works of literature.
Freedom of independence is probably the most written topic of the period, which was distributed by the means of pamphlets and other types of publications of the time. This is the type of literature that had the most effect in the creation of the American identity as we know today. The use of these means of distribution to invoke these writers dismay with the outside governing of their lives from abroad nation’s influence, and to persuade thoughts and opinions of others was critical in getting a majority in favor of a newly independent nation later to become known as the United States of America.
Such writings included the works of Thomas Paine which included the abnormally popular pamphlet called “Common Sense” (p.339). The full title was abnormal in the fact of how long it was for which it was as follows “Common Sense: Addressed to the Inhabitants of America, on the Following Interesting Subjects: viz; I. Of the Origin and Design of Government in General; with Concise Remarks on the English Constitution. II. Of Monarchy and Hereditary Succession. III. Thoughts on the Present State of American Affairs. IV. Of the Present Ability of America; with some Miscellaneous Reflections”. His motive for producing this writing was to advance his argument to advocate for new American independence. Alexander Hamilton’s eighty-five essays which appeared in many of the New York newspapers of the time had only one goal and that was to convince undecided New Yorkers to agree to the proposed new Constitution. These essays came to be known as “The Federalist” (p.360).
The most critical piece of literature by some standards to form the American Identity was written by Thomas Jefferson called “The Declaration of Independence” (p354), all-though he was not the sole writer of this article he was the most influential instrument of its making. This one major piece of literature put on to parchment and signed by all delegates but one from all the colonies set forth the separation from Great Britain and declared that “these united Colonies are, and of a right ought to be, free and independent states”.
These literature pieces of history were at the time just ideas, ambitions, and thoughts of those who had the overwhelming need to write these subjects down and then having the courage to share with others giving way to the spread of these collectives for others to ponder, invoke, and incorporate into the fabric that came to make up the American Identity.
Lib. of Cong. U.S. Govt. Web. 10 February 2012. The First March From
Selma, www.americaslibrary.gov/jb/colonial/jb_colonial_subj.html. Viewed February
Levine, Robert S. Norton Anthology of American Literature. – (pages 31,45, 56, 73, 93, 216,
339, 354, 360) W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2017. Viewed February 24th, 2019.
Franklin, Benjamin, and Albert H. Smyth. The Writings of Benjamin Franklin. The Macmillan
Company, 1905. Viewed February 24th, 2019.