Chapter 1 The Literature of Colonial Period





课 型

Theory and practice

课 题

The Literature of Colonial Period (1607 - 1765)


Aim of knowledge: 1. To make students get to know the historical background of the literature of colonial period in America.

2. To make students get the general idea about Puritan and Puritanism.

3. To make students get the general idea about American Literature in this period.

Aim of ability: training of the ability to analyze literary works along with Puritanism.

Aim of quality: cultivate the students’ broad mind with different religions.


Lecture, discussion, PPT presentation


Key points: Features and Representatives of Literature in Colonial Period

Difficulties: American Puritanism


教 学 内 容


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PartІ General Introduction

Step1 Preview Questions:

    What are the periods of British literature or English literature? Brief outline of American Literature please.

According to A Course Book of English Literature written by Zhang Boxiang you have learned, we are learning it in school, English literature generally can be divided into seven periods as follows:

  1) The Old and Medieval English Literature (449-1485)

  2) The Sixteenth-Century English Literature (1485-1603)

  3) The Seventeenth-Century English Literature (1603-1700)

  4) The Eighteenth-Century English Literature (1700-1798)

  5) The Romantic English Literature(1798-1832)

  6) The Victorian English Literature(1832-1900)

  7) The Twentieth-Century English Literature (1900-1970)

The periods of American literature:

  1) Colonial period

  2) Revolutionary period
      3) Romanticism
      4) he age of Realism
      5) The Modern period
      6) After the WWII (Contemporary Literature )


Step2 Introduction of the Course (见《美国文学》学习手册)


Step3 The Periods of American Literature (Six periods)

1.The Literature of Colonial Period (1607 - 1765) (《美国文学大纲》:P12-19)

2.The Literature of Enlightenment and Revolutionary Period (1765 -1800 (《大纲》:P19-31)

  1. The Literature of American Romanticism(1800 - 1865) (《大纲》:P32-87)

4.The Literature of American Realism(1865 - 1914) (《大纲》:P88-140)

5.The Literature of American Modernism (1914 – 1945)

6.The Contemporary Literature (1945 - 2000)


Part П The Literature of Colonial Period

Step1 Historical Introduction

1. Early history:
  1) In 1492, Christopher Columbus found the new continent called America.
  2) In 1607, Captain John Smith led some Englishmen across the ocean.
  3) In 1620, 102 passengers sailed on the ship Mayflower across the sea and settled on the new continent “New England”.
2. People:
  native inhabitants: Indians
  Immigrants mostly from Europe: Spanish; Dutch; French; English

3. Two Important New England Settlements: The Plymouth Colony and The Massachusetts Bay Colony.



The Purpose of European Nations Came to the America:

1) increase their wealth; 2) broaden their influence over world affairs; 3) escape religious persecution

Spanish, led by Christopher Columbus, is the first to settle in what is now the United States in 1492. By 1650, however, England had established a dominant presence on the Atlantic coast. The first colony founded at:         Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607. At this time, many of British people who settled in the New world came to escape religious persecution.


Step2 Puritans and Puritanism

1. Puritans

A group of English Protestants who in the 16th and 17th centuries advocated strict religious discipline along with simplification of the ceremonies and creeds of the Church of England. They regard pleasure or luxury as sinful. To them, religion should be a matter of personal faith rather than a ritual.

Two Sides of Puritans:

On the one hand, they believed in the right of freedom and pursuit of happiness and couldn’t bear any religious and political oppression; on the other hand, they thought themselves chosen people, couldn’t tolerate other way of living..


2. Puritanism

The beliefs and practices of the Puritans. It dominated almost everything at that time.

The American puritans accept the doctrine and practice of predestination, original sin, total depravity, and limited atonement through a special infusion of grace from God. But due to the grim struggle for living in the new continent, they become more and more practical. American Puritanism is so much a part of the national atmosphere rather than a set of tenets.

    a. Predestination(命运, 造化/预定论): God decided everything before things occurred. God is all and determines everything for man; man is nothing and helpless, totally at the mercy of God.

    b. Original Sin: Human beings were born to be evil. This original sin can be

passed down from generation to generation

    c. Total Depravity(彻底的堕落: As a consequence of the Fall of Man, every person born into the world is enslaved to the service of sin utterly unable to choose to follow God or choose to accept salvation as it is freely offered.

    d. Limited Atonement(有限的赎罪) (salvation): Only the “elect” can be saved. Jesus died for the chosen only, not for everyone. Only the chosen few can hope to be saved by God.

    e. Irresistible Grace(不可抗拒的恩典): God’s grace is freely given, and it cannot be earned or denied. Grace is defined as the saving and transfiguring power of God.

With the above thoughts, over the years in the new homeland, Puritans built a way of life that stressed hard work, thrift, piety, sobriety, discipline.


3. Influence of Puritanism on American Literature

a. The Spirit of Optimism——Garden of Eden and the burgeoning of the American Dream

The puritans dreamed of building a new Garden of Eden in the New World, and regarded America as their Promised Land. This kind of optimism developed into Emerson’s Transcendentalism and later into the American Dream, a promise that any man can fully actualize oneself through hard work. They thought they must have been sent there for the purpose of regaining the lost paradise and “setting up a state on a hill ”

American literature is in good measure a literary expression of the pious idealism of the American Puritan bequest. They dreamed of building a new Garden of Eden in America. Fired with such a sense of mission, they showed courage, hope, a tremendous amount of optimism in face of difficulties. All this went, in due time, into the making of American literature.

b. Symbolism As a Technique: Puritans’ metaphorical mode of perception helped to develop literary symbolism as they saw the physical world a symbol of God.

c. Simplicity: Just as Puritans sought to purify their lives, so too they sought to purify their language.


Step 3. American Literature

1. General Features

  Types of writing: diaries, histories, letters etc.

  Content: serving either God or colonial expansion or both.

  Form: imitating English literary traditions.

  Puritan writing, in other words, was practical. The writers were not merely providing entertainment; they were deeply involved with their spiritual selves and attempts to improve them. They wrote no fiction, nor did they even approve of reading fiction, and they wrote no plays because they disapproved violently of the theatre. Their writings consisted largely of journals, sermons, hymns, histories, and poems.


2. Writers in the Colonial PeriodPoints of TEM8

(1)John Smith (约翰·史密斯,1580-1631)

He is regarded as “the first author” in American literature.
A True Relation of Virginia 《关于佛吉尼亚的真实叙述》It was considered to be “the first book” in American literature.
A Description of New England 《新英格兰叙事》

As a real adventure, John Smith had fought the Turks in ‘Hungary’, where he was wounded and taken prisoner. He was sold as a slave and escaped by killing his master. In 1607 he helped found Jamestown, the first English colony in America. It was made up of one hundred men and four boys, and the man in charge was the 27 year-old Captain John Smith.

It was at Jamestown that Smith may or may not have had the most famous of his adventures. Scholars are still not sure to what extent he was embroidering the truth when he claimed to have been captured by chief Powhatan and rescued from death by the chief’s beautiful daughter, Pocahontas. The story seemed to grow more romantic and exciting each time Smith related it.  Although the details are not always correct, his A True Relation of Virginia (1608) and A Description of New England (1616) are fascinating “advertisement”, a kind of 17th-century “commercial, which try to persuade the reader to settle in the New world. The Puritans, for instance, studied his Description of New England carefully and then decided to settle there in 1620. On the other hand, the book is an effort to raise money for another new expedition and to convince Englishmen to join Smith in establishing a new colony of which he hoped to be governor.

His Elizabethan (of the time of Elizabeth I. Queen of England 1558-1603) style is not always easy to read, and his punctuation was strange even for the seventeenth century.


(2) William Bradford(威廉·布莱弗德,1590-1657)

He is the first governor of the Plymouth Plantation.

Masterpiece: Of Plymouth Plantation 《普利茅斯种植园史》

The most interesting works of New England Puritan Literature were histories. To the Puritans, history developed according to “God’s plan”. In all of their early New England histories, they saw New England as the “Promised land” of the Bible. 

 Of Plymouth Plantation by William Bradford is the most interesting of the Puritan histories. It describes the Puritans’ difficult relation with the Indians. It also describes their difficulties during the first winter, when half of the small colony died. This is all told in the wonderful “plain style” which the Puritans admired.

Bradford’s history is deeply influenced by the belief that God directs everything that happens.


(3) John Winthrop (约翰·温斯罗普,1558-1649)

He is the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony state.

The History of New England 《新英格兰史》

A Model of Christian Charity 《基督教之爱》: It showed the author’s dream of building a pure puritan world in America.

The History of New England by John Winthrop is also in the “plain style”.  But it is far less cheerful. Winthrop was the first governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony and, like most of the Puritan writers, was a minister all his life. His writing style is rather cold. He rarely shows shock or sadness, even when he describes scenes of great unhappiness. Sometimes, the dryness of his “plain style” is very effective.

Like all of the puritan historians, Winthrop believed that most events could be seen as a sign from God.


(4) Anne Bradstreet (安妮·布拉德斯特里特,1612-1672)

The most famous poetess in the colonial America

The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America 《最近在美洲出现的第十位缪斯》: It makes Anne Bradstreet well-known.


To My Dear and Loving Husband 《献给我亲爱的丈夫》

The Flesh and the Spirit 《肉与灵魂》

In the writings of the earliest Puritans, we often find poems on religious themes. Anne Bradstreet (1612-1672) was the first real New England pet. Anne Bradstreet came to the Massachusetts Bay Colony with her husband and her parents in 1630. The Bradstreet’s settled in the frontier village of Andover, where Anne, under difficult conditions that tried her faith, maintained a household and raised eight children. She had to defend her right to compose verses, for many Puritans, who did not disapprove of poetry itself, wondered if a woman should write it. Yet her first book, The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung up in America, was published in England in 1650 and was a great success. None of her early poems are very good. Her later poems, written with charming simplicity, show her progress in art. She refuses “to sing of wars, of captains, and of Kings”.  Instead, she gives us a look into the heart of a 17th century American Woman. Bradstreet’s finest poems are those closest to her personal experience as a Puritan wife and mother living on the edge of the wilderness.

In her tender poem “To My Dear and Loving Husband”, Bradstreet places her earthly married life within the frame work of eternity.


(5)Jonathan Edwards (乔纳森·爱德华兹,1703-1758

The Freedom of the Will《论意志自由》

The Great Doctrine of Original Sin Defended《原罪说辩》

The Nature of True Virtue《论真实德行的本原》

Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God 《罪人在愤怒的上帝手中》


(6) Edward Taylor (爱德华·泰勒,1642-1729)

  ① Preparatory Meditations 《内省录》

  ② God’s Determinations Touching His Elect《上帝对其选民影响的决定》

  ③ Metrical History of Christianity《诗体基督教史》


3. Appreciate Two Poems

 1) I heard the merry grasshopper then sing,

The black-clad cricket bear a second part;

They kept one tune and played on the same string.

Seeming to glory in their little art.

Small creatures abject thus their voices raise,

And in their kind resound their Maker' s praise,

Whilst I, as mute, can warble forth no higher lays?

  2)          Huswifery

   Make me, O Lord, thy spinning wheel complete.

   Thy holy word my distaff make for me.

   Make mine affections thy swift flyers neat,

   And make my soul thy holy spool to be.

   My conversation make to be thy reel,

   And reel the yarn thereon spun of thy wheel.


Step4. Key Points and Difficulties

Key points: Features and Representatives of Literature in Colonial Period

Difficulties: American Puritanism


Step5. Homework

  1. List all new words in the above two poems, looking them up in your dictionary and writing down their meanings.

  2. Identify the poets of these two poems.

  3. Use your own words to generalize the themes and other information the authors want to express.