After the death of James I in 1625, the new monarch Charles I took religious persecution
to a new level. He was asked by the Parliament to sign the petition of rights but he
continued to show open disregard to Parliament and people. He also suffered
unsuccessful foreign expeditions to France etc. After the Civil War in 1642, there was a
division into the Cavaliers or Royalists (Clergy, nobility etc, those in favor of the King)
and Roundheads or Parliamentarians (middle class etc those were in favor of the
Parliament). The Civil War helped the Puritans to set up the Commonwealth. Oliver
Cromwell was able to galvanize a military dictatorship during Protectorate up until 1660
when Monarchy was restored.
Puritans came to American land in search of religious freedom from the Anglican
Church or the High Church and the persecution of the puritans under the King and
Queen of the time. The first Puritan or Pilgrim settlement is at Plymouth. The Puritans
had huge cultural and political role in crystallizing the American life. There imported
notions regarding religion and Enlightenment form the bedrock of new settlement
The prominent writers of the age are William Bradford, John Winthrop, Edward Taylor
etc. William Bradford wrote extensively about Puritan life in terms of honest and hard
working folks. He celebrated the heroism of the simple or ordinary people.
John Winthrop also described the various enterprises of the Puritan life with spirituality
being the ultimate objective. In routine life there were activities like governance, trading
The most prominent writer of the age in England was John Milton with works like
"Paradise Lost" and "Paradise Regained". Some other works are John Bunyan's "The
Pilgrim's Progress", Walton's "Complete Angler" and Sir Thomas Browne's "Religio
Here are the main characteristics of the literature of the age:
First person narratives were commonplace in the writing of this age especially in the
forms of journals and diaries.
There were personal accounts of early American colonists depicting tales of traveling to
the new lands, immigration, and everyday struggle. These acted as bequest to be handed
down the generations to come in the future. As many American settlers had left their
families back in England, letter also became a popular form of writing.
The main genres of writing included religious sermons, historical narrative, personal
journals and poetry.
The common themes include religious and political idealism. There is also insistence on
practicalism and pragmatism of day to day life. The religious discourse emphasizes on
the concept of predestination and inevitability of sin and strong sense of guilt and
There is heavy usage of symbolism especially from the religious scripture. The age is
known for heavy influence of Biblical text, for example Old Testament and books like the
book of Jeremiah. The genre known as ‘Jeremiads’, was split into three portions. The
first extolled the faith of the past generations, the second denigrated the sins of the
present age and the third make appeals for repentance and contrition.
There was influence of natural phenomena like earthquakes, fires, floods etc as the
people of the age were interested in learning about nature and the signs for God’s design
Other thematic works included the idea of reformation or regeneration. Unity and free
choice and order were also topical manifestations. The concept of struggle between the
World and spirituality was also explored
As most families visited the Church and attended religious sermons, the writing itself
reflects Biblical style of construction.
There was also demonization of the native Indians who were described as followers of
The writing style of the age was predominantly plain with simple sentences and
language. Metaphorical constructions were in limited use and excessive ornamentation
or dramatic appeals were discouraged. Symbolism from scripture was used to make the
sermons etc impactful.
The main motive was to tell the truth of Godly existence in a commonly understandable
form. Therefore, use of Greek mythology or forms of classical literature was avoided.
Use of fictional elements was limited to the extent of blasphemy.
Puritans believed that literature should not be used for entertainment. It must used in
the service of religious of discourse. Puritan writers like Anne Bradstreet and John
Winthrop wrote extensively about spirituality.
They shared their own spiritual journeys. The aim was to popularize the Puritan beliefs
and impose their vision a new social order. They wanted to motivate by creating an
allusion to that ideal society.
Among these works, there is Winthrop’s "Model of Christian Charity," which was
actually a sermon and used the popular metaphor "City Upon a Hill" in Abella Covenant.
It is still referenced by many American politicians.
Poets used sonnets especially the likes of Anne Bradstreet (considered to be first
American poet) etc. This was a continuation of the sonnet writing in the Elizabethan age
and the works of Shakespeare etc.
"The Author to Her Book" by Anne Bradstreet is an excellent example of such sonnets.
Bradstreet used a very European poetic style and avoided getting into squabbles with
the criticism of the clergy at the time.
With the beginning of Restoration period (after the monarchy was re-established in
1660) poets like John Dryden etc brought some creativity back to Puritan poetry.