Puritan and Protestant Traditions in Literature Historical Background

Historical Background

(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Originally, “Puritan” was a derisive term for one who opposed compromise between Catholicism and Protestantism in Elizabethan England. The term was later applied to one who claimed to be using pure forms of Christianity. The claimed pure practices of Christianity included congregational organization, faith in the Bible as literal truth, and a rejection of ritual in religious practice. Protestants are members of any of a large number of Christian groups that are not Catholic; these groups trace their origins to the Reformation.

The Puritan tradition in literature has been most influential in the United States, largely because of the political and philosophical impact of the Puritan immigrants. Two Puritan groups were among the first Europeans in New England. The Plymouth colony was established in 1620 near Cape Cod, Massachusetts; their numbers were small and they produced only one notable writer, William Bradford (1590-1657), whose History of Plymouth Plantation remained unpublished until 1856. The Plymouth colonists believed in separation from the Church of England and had little contact with English society. The Plymouth colony had relatively little lasting influence politically; they have, however, maintained a mythic presence in American literature and culture, although their image was romanticized in such works as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s The Courtship of Miles Standish (1858). Far more influential than the Plymouth colony was the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the Boston area, the first settlement of which took place in 1630. The Massachusetts Bay colonists did not believe in separation from England and maintained closer ties with the political movements of the time. Massachusetts Bay produced a number of important writers, including John Winthrop, Anne Bradstreet, and Edward Taylor.