Jonathan Edwards

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Compare Jonathan Edwards to William Bradford in their role in American Literature.

Edwards' works offer insights into the early colonies through vivid sermons and his histories provide an accurate account of life in the time period. Bradford's work provides insight into the religious foundations of colonial America and how it was practiced. Edwards' works are more in the style of modern literature, while Bradford's works are in Early Modern English.

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Jonathan Edwards and William Bradford both contributed significantly to the canon of early colonial-era literature in America; their works left a legacy that illuminates much of what life was like in America before the revolution. Both were men to whom religion mattered significantly; Bradford, indeed, was driven to leave England for America in order to be free to practice his Separatist faith. As a result, there is strong religious influence in both Edwards's and Bradford's work. However, their seminal works differ in terms of genre, as Bradford is best known for his writings about the day-to-day events in Plymouth Colony, of which he was governor, and Edwards is best remembered for his sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God."

To say that Edwards was a prolific writer would be to understate the case. In fact, there are more than a thousand surviving items written by Edwards, the majority of them sermons. The sermons offer great insight into the ways of thinking that prevailed among the Puritans in colonial-era America when considering the Puritans' day-to-day concerns and the huge role their religion played in their lives. Edwards also wrote some works more in the manner of histories, such as his Life and Diary of David Brainerd, which explains how missionaries sought to spread their religion to the Native American population. The language of Edwards' sermons is particularly colorful and vivid, indicating how preachers such as Edwards were able to convey their ideas to their flocks through illustrations of the "greedy hungry lions" of sin which craved their souls. Many of Edwards's sermons remain fixtures in anthologies of early American literature today, and although they reflect an approach to God which does not really resonate even with religious readers today, their vividness offers us a valuable insight into how Puritanism could have been strong enough to drive the founding and early growth of America.

William Bradford, on the other hand, offers us his insights into early colonial America more directly through the medium of his book Of Plymouth Plantation. The work is written in the form of a diary and describes in great detail how Plymouth Colony was first founded and how colonists lived between 1621 and 1646. Writing about a century before Edwards, Bradford's work enables us to see the beginnings of the strongly religious society which would then develop over the course of a century into the world Edwards's sermons were written for. Of Plymouth Plantation, while a history, contains strong religious elements: Bradford is very clear that what went well for the colonists did so because of the divine support of God. He also explains in detail how religion was practiced in the colony, as well as how the colonists interacted with the Native Americans and what they thought of them.

In comparing Bradford's writings to Edwards's, we are also confronted with a marked difference in the language and style of the writing. Bradford's work is in early modern English:

In these hard & difficulte beginings they found some discontents & murmurings arise amongst some, and mutinous speeches & carriags in other; but they were soone quelled & overcome by ye wisdome, patience, and just & equall carrage of things by ye Govr and better part, wch clave faithfully togeather in ye maine.

Meanwhile, Edwards's language has evolved over the course of a short century into a form of English easily recognizable as, and not unlike, the English spoken and written in America today. In a way, this difference represents in microcosm how Bradford's work connects to Edwards's: serving as a forerunner for it. Bradford's writings are the quintessential work of early American literature and offer us vital insights about how the colonies were first established and run; in Edwards's works, we can trace how those early colonies developed over the course of a century and how their religion continued to help them thrive and offer them sustenance.

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