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History of Plymouth Plantation

by William Bradford

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How does Bradford portray the Puritans' relationship with the wilderness?

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Bradford stresses the dangerous nature of the land to emphasize the scale of the Pilgrims' accomplishments in taming it.

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In the passage of History of Plymouth Plantation where he describes the Pilgrims' arrival in North America, Bradford memorably describes the wilderness as "hideous and desolate...full of wild beasts and wild men." Aside from his Eurocentric characterization of Native Americans, this passage is revealing. To Bradford, the land the Pilgrims planned to settle was wild and dangerous--hostile, even. He portrays the Atlantic Ocean in similar ways. This is consistent with Bradford's overall purpose and vision for the History and for the settlement it describes. By highlighting the "wild and savage" nature of the landscape, he emphasizes the scale of the Pilgrims' accomplishments in surviving and, in their view, bringing order to it. But Bradford's main emphasis is to illustrate the workings of God in the world, and his role in preserving the lives of the settlers. As he puts it:

What could now sustain them but the Spirit of God and His grace? May not and ought not the children of these fathers rightly say: "Our fathers were Englishmen which came over this great ocean, and were ready to perish in this wilderness; but they cried unto the Lord, and He heard their voice and looked on their adversity.

The survival of the Pilgrims' settlement was for Bradford part of a providential design. The wilderness was hostile and dangerous, and, like all the challenges they faced, only with divine help could they conquer it.

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