Beginning the American Tradition

With the beginning of the American tradition in literature, two prevalent themes arise:

  • Preoccupation with the meaning of America
  • Self-transformation and its arising conflict with the demands of society.

In this first unit entitled "Age of Faith," we will seek to understand the following:

  • How the earliest American writers viewed America, and how they viewed the settlers' difficulties in surviving a new land

  • Important features of Puritan experience, especially the idea of grace, the view of America as divinely appointed, the use of the plain style, and brief revival of Puritanism in the Great Awakening

  • The subject matter and technique of the first significant American poet Edward Taylor

  • Differences between life in early New England and in the early South.

ENLIGHTENMENT PERIOD consists of both "The Age of Faith" from 1607 until 1750, and "The Age of Reason" from 1750 until 1800.

I. The Age of Faith (1607 through 1750)

Historical Context

  • Pilgrims and the Puritans
  • Separated from the Anglican church of England
  • Aligned with a religion that dominated their lives and writings
  • Work ethic - belief in hard work and simple, no-frills living
  • The Bay Psalm Book


  • Sermons, diaries, personal narratives, slave narratives
  • Instructive
  • Plain style

Major Writers and Works

Class Discussions

In the selection from Of Plymouth Plantation, there are peace terms with the Indians. Explain in a paragraph whether the terms were more favorable to the settlers or the Indians.

Who are the Puritans?

What are three main Puritan characteristics?

Who are the significant Puritan leaders?

How did the earliest American writers view America? Support in a paragraph with examples.

Discuss the differences between life in early New England and the early South. How did these affect the literature of the time?

Write an interpretation of “Upon the Burning of Our House.”

Edwards’ sermon is a classic statement of the Puritans’ literal vision of Hell and of their belief in humanity’s utter dependence upon God. He compares God’s wrath to several things. In a paragraph cite at least three comparisons.