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Puritan Ideology in Bradford’s “Of Plymouth Plantation”

When one looks into the ideological beliefs and religiosity of Puritan writing, an immense amount of these are found in William Bradford’s Of Plymouth Plantation. The book is what has been hailed as “a mercantile epic” whose “fundamental pattern . . .is that of the American success story” (Wenska 152). However, there is this proverbial “God is on our side” ideology to the work; something that seems to ring true in American culture today. Bradford and the other Puritans feel that the new land of Plymouth is a divine right; it is the Promised Land given to them as a new covenant with God.

Bradford was raised to be a farmer but increasingly became interested in religion, and eventually met “Reverend Richard Clyfton, nonconformist rector at Babworth, Nottinghamshire, ten miles distant, and Clyfton’s preaching led the young man to join the dissenters”. Bradford’s journal shows the ideologies of his group and the religious fundamentalism that drives these people to engage in the New World the way they do.

To really get a grasp on this idea, looking at Bradford’s journal shows how the Puritans thought about what Early America was—a promised land. Of course, there are many sermons and texts that can be used to further study this Puritan typology; but the scope of this essay is too brief to go into them. Bradford’s book is a wealth of information.

The trials and tribulations of the Pilgrims coming to the New World are very much akin to those Moses faced in the desert. Especially Bradford’s account of finally pulling into safe shore.

However, the “God is on our side” ideology runs rampant through the text. So much so that it seems sadistically comical in Of Plymouth Plantation. After the Pilgrims voyage, there is a series of strange events that now most people may construe as illogical and cruel. The Pilgrims end up stealing corn from the Native Americans and Bradford immediately thanks the Lord for providing it for them: “[T]hey digging up, found in them divers fair Indian baskets filled with corn, and some in ears, fair and good, of divers colors, which seemed to them a very goodly sight” (Bradford 65). Then, like a Moses, Bradford espouses that: “[L]ike the men from Eshcol, carried with them the fruits of the land and showed their brethren; of which, and their return, they were marvelously glad and their hearts encouraged” (Bradford 67).

The reference to Eshcol, as Bradford notes, is from Numbers 23-6. Numbers is the fourth book in the Bible and deals with God’s covenant for the Israelites to gain access into the Promised Land. These verses function rhetorically as a way for the Pilgrims to justify stealing—which is even stranger due to the fact that not stealing is a direct commandment from the Judeo-Christian god.

Furthermore, this religiosity is conflated by the fact that—by “God’s Providence”—the colonists had guns and the Indians did not (69). As he points out a page later: “Thus it pleased God to vanquish their enemies and give them deliverance; and by His special providence so to dispose that not any one of them were either hurt or hit […] Afterwards they gave God solemn thanks and praise for their deliverance” (70). This, therefore, conflates and intensifies the ideological belief that the Indians are inferior from the beginning. What is so “sadistically comical” about these encounters is this is not even the Pilgrims’ land.

The Puritanical viewpoint can be seen as the sine qua non of conservative religion that even one sees today at times; that there must be some God given right that America is a Promised Land to Americans. One can see how Manifest Destiny, the current heated battle of immigration, and the fact that presidents still profess to being religious has integrated through this culture. The Puritan ideology that Bradford uses—that the colonists are chosen—is still part of American discourse today and has been throughout this nation’s history.

Works Cited

American National Biography Online.” American National Biography Online. Web. 23 July 2013.

Bradford, William. Of Plymouth Plantation 1620-1647. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1953. Print.

Wenska, Walter P. “Bradford’s Two Histories: Pattern and Paradigm in ‘Of Plymouth Plantation.'” Early American Literature 13.2 (1978): 151-64. Print.


Using Puritan Literature to Teach Rhetorical Strategies in the Secondary Classroom

In teaching secondary students in the English classroom, Puritan literature may be a challenge. One way to approach this literature in a practical manner is to use the literature to teach students the different rhetorical strategies used by Puritans in their sermons. Puritan literature also allows for lessons on purpose and audience as there was always a strong focus in their doctrines. While Puritan literature is not typically looked at to teach the classic rhetorical techniques of logos, pathos, and ethos, I will argue that all of the Puritan literature published in secondary textbooks would lend itself to many examples of these rhetorical strategies.

One piece of Puritan literature that can be used to teach purpose and the logical persuasive techniques is Robert Cushman’s “Reasons and Considerations Touching the Lawfulness of Removing out of England into the Parts of America.” In this piece, Cushman is trying to convince those still in England who were considering coming to the New World. This would be a great piece to have students first read on their own to figure out the general purpose and intended audience of the text. Students can then go back and re-read the piece a second time looking for the logical appeals. Cushman, like many Puritan writers of this time period, uses a logical argument from information in the Bible as justification for things, like coming to the New World . He states, “Whereas God of old did call and summon our fathers by predictions, dreams, visions, and certain illuminations to go from their countries, places, and habitations, to reside and dwell there…” (42). By stating that it is God’s will for them to come to new places, he is hoping that this will turn into a religious pilgrimage, as well as a departure from England. This would be considered a logical appeal and something that high school students can decipher through close analysis of the text.

This also is very similar to what John Winthrop does in “Reasons to Be Considered for… the Intended Plantation in New England” when Winthrop attempts to use a biblical and logical appeal to convince those in England to come to the New World. When responding to objections that the English have no warrant to enter the land occupied by others, he also states, “The whole earth is the Lord’s garden and he hath given it to the sons of men, with a general condition…” (72). Winthrop also uses pathos, or emotional appeals, in his “Reasons to Be Considered.” In trying to convince those in England to come to the New World, he uses loaded words to create a strong emotional response to his argument. For example, he states, “What can be a better work and more honorable and worthy a Christian then to help raise and support a particular church while it is in the infancy” (72). The words “honorable” and “worthy” make the idea of coming to the New World seem overly positive. For use in the secondary classroom, teachers can discuss the connotation and denotations of words and how connotations have a large impact on the overall meaning and persuasive appeal. Teachers can make a list of these words on the board and discuss how Winthrop uses them to strengthen his argument.

Another emotional appeal that students can analyze in Puritan Sermons is the idea of story-telling. Puritan sermons often took the stories of the Bible and used them in their performance to rationalize but also dramatize their ideas. According to the article, “Puritan’s Progress: The Story of the Soul’s Salvation in the Early New England Sermons,” by Phyllis M. Jones, New England preachers did more than develop doctrines and use plain style.  Jones states, “The ultimate imaginative resonance of the sermons lies less in texture-their style and imagery-than in a structural feature-their underlying narrative about the soul’s search for salvation” (14). Jones explains that the story of the soul’s salvation is told in such an imaginative and narrative way, that the doctrine becomes persuasive (15). As an example, Jones uses Thomas Hooker’s, “The Souls Vocation,” where Hooker narrates an encounter of the soul with Christ, to show that Puritan sermons often mixed narrative folk-tale with fact. Jones states, “Practically without transition the storyteller has shifted from fiction to fact, from figurative account to realistic diagnosis…” (23). In the secondary classroom teachers can discuss the idea of folk-tales, their purpose, and how Puritan’s often used these to make their doctrines more persuasive. Secondary students could find modern day pieces of rhetoric or advertising that uses narratives or folk-tales to provide a more persuasive argument.

While teaching Puritan Literature to secondary students may pose some challenges, including sensitivity to religion, text complexity past their reading level, and unawareness for the Puritan culture, it is my belief that these pieces can be used with great success in teaching rhetorical strategies. Also, they can teach students how people create an argument and support their main ideas with facts or ideas that make it more persuasive.

Works Cited

Heimert, Alan, and Andrew Delbanco, eds. The Puritans in America: A Narrative Anthology. 1 Vol. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1985. Print.

Jones, Phyllis M. “Puritan’s Progress: The Story of the Soul’s Salvation in the Early New England Sermons.” Early American Literature 15.1 (1980): 14-28. Print.

The Devotion in Abigail Adams’s Letters to John Adams

I wonder sometimes  to what extent does the wife of a politician support her husband? And what the role does she play in her husband’s life? One of the best examples I can relate to is the story of John Adams and his wife, Abigail Adams whose influence is undoubtedly noted.

The second president of the United States, John Adams (1736-1826) and his wife, Abigail Adams (1744-1817) were at a distance for years at a time. Notwithstanding this separation, they wrote frequently to each other about a wide range of matters. What interested me was the language Abigail used in her letters, most evidently her devout words that were meant to inspire her husband during that period of apartness. Her letters were constructed very well lending themselves meritoriously to the understanding of Abigail’s influence on John’s life. Although they were physically apart, Abigail’s soul, as embodied in her letters, was present at all times.

When reading Abigail’s words, I can delve simply into her mind and see how ideas and thoughts are structured. She uses colorful and powerful language to carry her ideas very well. On a letter dated February 8, 1797, and to show her assistance, Abigail writes to her husband on the day the electoral ballots are opened and the president of the United States is declared. “My thoughts and my meditations are with you, though personally absent…my feelings are not those of pride or ostentation, upon the occasion,” Abigail endeavors to ascertain her sincere support to her husband in this new critical chapter of their lives (Adams 174).

In the same letter, Abigail composes this prelude:

The sun is dressed in brightest beams,

To give thy honors to the day

Abigail uses three aspects to show that she was at the verge of her intellectuality when writing this letter. She starts with astute words in a form of verse followed by religious content in a form of prayer and concludes with words of comfort and support. Abigail prays,“ And now, O Lord, my God, thou hast made thy servant ruler over the people. Give unto him an understanding heart, that he may know how to go out and come in before this great people; that he may discern between good and bad”. Her choice of words in this prayer denotes for her affection and care toward her husband.

I can state unequivocally that in Abigail’s letters, I can find a sense of reassurance. Her familiar letters epitomize a surge; not only does she unreservedly enthuse her husband, but also she shows her will to accompany him in this journey. “I am ready and willing to follow my husband wherever he chooses,” writes Abigail, on a letter dated April 26,1797, to declare this commitment (Adams 176). Abigail knew that by being a First Lady, she would have now more responsibilities and social obligations. However, her love and dedication was astounding. By writing to him, Abigail helped John be his true companion on political matters, as Edith Gelles explores in her book, Abigail Adams: A Writing Life. John often sought devout words from his wife. He writes after the inauguration, “I never wanted your advice and assistance more in my life”(Akers 68). But I must say that John Adams was very fortunate to have a woman like Abigail in his life, to have such influence.

Work Cited

Adams, Abigail, John Adams, and Charles Francis Adams. Letters of Mrs. Adams, the Wife of John Adams. Boston: C.C. Little and J. Brown, 1840. Print.

Akers, Charles W. Abigail Adams, an American Woman. Boston: Little, Brown, 1980.Print.

Gelles, Edith B. Abigail Adams: A Writing Life. New York: Routledge, 2002. Print.

Blackness in Early America

This bibliography contains the primary materials used to examine the black presence in the Puritan colonies. While by no means an exhaustive list, the selections named here offer readers a variety of perspectives, from the influential clergy to the black man himself.

Calef, Robert. More Wonders of the Invisible World. London: Golden Bible, 1700. Print.

Calef’s “More Wonders of the Invisible World”, which was written in response to Dr. Mather’s “The Wonders of the Invisible World,” is designed to both shed light on the events surrounding the case of Margaret Rule and critique the abuses of power and influence that Cotton Mather and the church were exerting over colonists at the time. In it, Calef argues that the church has abandoned scriptural principles in its pursuit of superstition and hearsay.  He is especially keen to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the accusations of witchcraft that Dr. Mather and other leaders in the church were perpetuating.

The work is split into five parts, each designed for a particular purpose in supporting Calef’s argument against church behavior. Part one is a reprint of Cotton Mather’s account of the events surrounding the afflictions of Margaret Rule. Part two is a series of correspondence between Calef and Cotton Mather in which Calef relays his version of Margaret Rule’s afflictions and calls into question Mather’s methods of treatment. Parts three, four, and five are all related to the events surrounding the Salem Witch Trials and contain many court documents and letters from judges and administrators.

Marrant, John. A Narrative of the Lord’s Wonderful Dealings with John Marrant, a Black. Dublin: Dugdale, 1790. Print.

The captivity narrative of John Marrant is of particular importance to early American studies in blackness due to the fact Marrant was himself black. His recollections offer readers a unique perspective and shed some valuable light on the relationship between the black colonists and the Native Indians. In one especially telling passage, Marrant claims that the Indians were more likely to attack white villages, due to their poor treatment by white colonists, than they were to attack areas with more blacks. This kind of look at early American racial tension is valuable for a comprehensive discussion of how blackness was perceived.

Like most captivity narratives, Marrant’s work is on the shorter side (wrapping up after only 36 pages) and details not much other than his time spent within the Indian camps. To some readers, calling this a captivity narrative might seem strange, given Marrant’s ultimate influence over the Indians and ability to move freely among them as a leader of sorts, but it holds all the features of the traditional captivity stories –entering the wilderness, detailing removes, and ultimately escaping and assimilating back into civilized society. While not as exciting as Rowlandson’s narrative, Marrant’s is significant given his race and standing.

Mather, Cotton. The Negro Christianized. Boston: B. Green, 1706. Print.

Published in 1706, Mather’s essay “The Negroe Christianized” provides contemporary scholars with a complicated look at how both slaves and free black men were perceived in early America. Mather’s argument is rather simple. He believes that his countrymen should see black slaves as candidates for salvation, and endorses the conversion and recruitment of these people for the work of God. In the essay, Mather addresses the potential origin of the black race and the notion that they may lack souls altogether — a notion that he describes as “brutish”. Mather provides his readers with four reasons why they should be aiming to convert their black slaves to Christianity, First, because God commands it and requires it. Second, because conversion is a Christian duty. Third, the servants are crying to be Christianized. Forth, the eternal benefits of saving a soul.

While Mather’s writing makes a strong case for the equality of souls in the eyes of God, he never treads into emancipation territory. Instead, Mather extols the black slaves for their diligence in service and hard work, while reassuring his congregation that baptizing a black man will not relieve him of his earthly slavery, but will make him a free man of the Lord.

Mather, Cotton. The Wonders of the Invisible World. Boston: Raven in the Poultry,1693. Print.

Cotton Mather begins The Wonders of the Invisible World with a pre-emptive defense of his intentions. He attempts to justify the publication by noting the lack of any other works detailing the witchcraft epidemic, an issue that he saw as being widespread and dangerous to the survival of the church in the colonies. Mather’s work acts as an argument in favor of the persecution of those accused of participating in witchcraft or associating with those who did. Being published in both Boston and London, Wonders was clearly intended for wide dissemination in both the old and new countries. This indicates that Mather saw this writing as crucial to not only the survival of the colonies, but the survival of the church as a whole.

Mather’s work is divided into five sections and four curiosities. Each section of the work provides details regarding the trials of people accused of witchcraft. Mather makes an effort to provide an historical account of these trials, often simply stating the each stage of the events. For the trial of Susannah Martin, Mather provides a partial transcript of the trial proceedings. The inclusion of these trial accounts is designed to support Mather’s argument by highlighting not only the atrocities of the accused, but their unwillingness to admit their crimes.

Rowlandson, Mary. The Sovereignty and Goodness of God. Cambridge: Samuel Green, 1682. Early English Books Online. Web.  24 July 2013. Wing R2093.

In her captivity memoir, The Sovereignty and Goodness of God, Mary Rowlandson gives readers an account of her time spent as a prisoner of the Native Indians. She spares very little detail in recalling the events leading up to and after her capture, often painting brutal pictures of death and suffering. She frequently refers to the natives as “black creatures”, demonstrating the belief that anyone who wasn’t a white, Christianized, Englishman was considered “black”. She divides her work up into twenty removes, beginning just before her capture and leading up to her eventual reunion with her husband and surviving children.

Rowlandson also makes frequent use of Bible verses, which, for her, serve as evidence of the Lord’s presence in every step of her struggle and act as a sustaining force when she is troubled. While the abundance of these scriptural passages can be distracting, they provide key insights into how she was able to cope with such suffering. Given that this narrative was written a few years after her release from captivity and with the help of religious leaders, the reliability of the facts may be called into question. Rowlandson’s work was widely circulated at the time, buffeted by endorsements of church leaders. Contemporary readers should wonder whether or not the church had sought to gain from this publication, and whether or not it was Puritan propaganda.

Reflection on William Wells Brown’s “The Anti-Slavery Harp: A Collection of Songs for Anti-Slavery Meetings”

Generally recognized as the first African American author and playwright, William Wells Brown was far better known as a writer and abolitionist than as a musicologist, and the The Anti-Slavery Harp: A Collection of Songs for Anti-Slavery Meetings collection was his only foray into music compilation, although his serial autobiographies continued to incorporate the songs of slavery into their texts. In terms of contemporary scholarship, the collection has been examined for its anonymous poem, “Jefferson’s Daughter,” which Brown biographer, William Farrison speculated may have been the impetus behind Brown’s best-known work, the novel, Clotel; or, The President’s Daughter (347). The Anti-Slavery Harp is the first collection of its kind compiled by an African American writer. More importantly, of the 48 songs in the collection, Brown’s inclusion of an anonymous slave’s “The Coffle Gang” represents one of the earliest book-length publications of lyrics transcribed from the oral tradition of slave spirituals. Although songs deriving from this tradition occasionally appeared in African American and abolition newspapers, spirituals and work songs were not formally compiled until William Francis Allen, Charles Pickard Ware and Lucy McKim Garrison’s 1867 collection, Slave Songs of the United States (Lovell 72).

While later scholarship questions Brown’s publication claims, Brown’s preface to The Anti-Slavery Harp informs his audience that “the larger portion of these songs has never before been published; some have never been in print” (3); however, he provides scant information about the anonymous material’s origins. Antebellum writer, Maxwell Whiteman’s bibliographical note references the existence of three similar compilations (i) without including their titles and authorship. Both Whiteman and Brown reference the author’s “indebtedness” (i) to Jairus Lincoln’s Anti-Slavery Melodies (1843) and George Washington Clark’s The Liberty Minstrel (1844) compilations; however, no further collection or publication information is provided. Of the countless slave songs Brown was subject to (and acknowledged throughout his writings), one wonders why “The Coffle Gang” was the only slave song he chose to include. Outside of the epigraph identifying it as a slave song, discourse on “The Coffle Gang” is virtually nonexistent. The earliest version I could find was contained in Brown’s 1848 autobiography, A Narrative of the Life of William W. Brown. Typically, Brown’s serial autobiographies used snippets of slave spirituals, hymns and poems as a means of illustrating the horrors of slavery, and “these poor souls from Africa / Transported to America” who populate “The Coffle Gang” (1-2) operate as pathetic and ethical appeals for abolition. Brown’s use of slavery lyrics continued through his last autobiography, My Southern Home; or, The South and Its People (1880).

Despite the critical attention paid to his speeches and prose, little information exists detailing Brown’s compilation process or the editorial process involved in the selection of publication-worthy freedom songs. Neither traditional spirituals nor work songs,  Brown’s collection of abolitionist songs contain a number of anonymous works, as well as works by minor authors and abolitionists of the day. The Anti-Slavery Harp, additionally, contains several adaptations of poems by well-known 19th century poets, and further compilation information is available in William Edward Farrison’s 1969 publication, William Wells Brown: Author & Reformer.


Works Cited

Brown, William W. The Anti-Slavery Harp: A Collection of Songs for Anti-Slavery Meetings.
Boston: Bela Marsh, No. 25, 1848. Print.

Farrison, William Edward. William Wells Brown: Author & Reformer. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago, 1969. Print.

Lovell, John. Black Song. New York: Macmillan, 1972. Print.

A Gender Studies Approach to the Life and Trial of Anne Hutchinson

This bibliography focuses on a small sampling of the critical works analyzing the trial of Anne Hutchinson in 1637.  Specifically, these works will look at the Hutchinson trial and Antinomian literature with a gender studies and feminist slant, looking at how gender played a role in these historical events.

Barker-Benfield, Ben.  “Anne Hutchinson and the Puritan Attitude toward Women.” Feminist Studies 1.2 (1972): 65-96.  JSTOR.  Web.  21 July 2013.

Barker-Benfield takes an interesting approach to looking at the relationships among men, women, and God in this article.  This writer suggests that, despite the Puritan opposition to hierarchies within the established church, gendered attitudes toward men and women established unofficial tiers of power by establishing that one gender is more apt than another to receive divine wisdom from God.  This was because one gender held almost all of the positions of leadership within a community – church leaders, teachers, politicians, etc. – while the other gender was less apt to receive the same divine wisdom from God.  Because of the other gender’s incapacity to have a direct relationship with God, Barker-Benfield argues that this lead them to become rebels and allow this rebelliousness to be reproduced within families and break down the family unit.

This article also looks at the similarities between Hutchinson’s story and the story of Hester Prynne in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel The Scarlet Letter.  Barker-Benfield, in describing accounts of the two women’s lives, looks at how Hawthorne takes Hutchinson’s life story and, through Hester Prynne, creates a female character that, along with her religious leader Arthur Dimmesdale, take to task the Puritanical attitudes regarding gender and power as perceived by Hawthorne.

Kaufmann, Michael W. “Post-secular Puritans: Recent Retrials of Anne Hutchinson.” Early American Literature 45.1 (2010): 31-59. Project MUSE. Web. 23 July 2013.

Kaufmann’s article takes a look at more recent developments in the study of Hutchinson’s life and works that have been published since the 1970s and 1980s.  Additionally, Kaufmann argues that there are certain cultural parameters, such as religion, that should be worked back into Hutchinson scholarship, especially in relation to the prevailing dichotomies that have been previously studied in relation to this particular Puritan figure and within Puritan studies in general.  This is to encourage Puritan scholarship to follow trends in the field of literary studies to incorporate religious considerations back into academic work.  After all, writes Kaufmann, the Puritans were both a religious and cultural group, so this is nothing more than a logical move to make.

Kaufmann also argues that Puritan studies should follow prevailing scholarly trends and make a return to incorporating religion in academic study.  Interestingly, Kaufmann describes the religious literary studies, placed among several other sub-disciplines within the cultural studies field, is an interesting gray zone for Puritan scholars because of the influence religion had on this particular group of people, their literature, and the discourses in which they engage.

Scheick, William J.  “Literature to 1800.”  American Literary Scholarship (2004): 223-240.  Project MUSE.  Web.  23 July 2013.

This literature review, which encompasses a wide variety of early American writers and historical figures, has a pretty significant portion devoted not only to Puritan women, but particularly to Hutchinson.  Many of the scholarly texts mentioned look at Hutchinson and the works regarding her trial from a variety of approaches, but also take others within her community, such as John Cotton, to task on their remarks during Hutchinson’s trial, and whether or not these figures surrounding Hutchinson really understood the ramifications of their words and arguments.

Scheick’s literature review gives a compact scope of the scholarship there is regarding Puritan and colonial women while still giving due justice to many different fields within literary studies.  His analysis of each source is rather brief, but also tries to give the reader an idea of what distinguishes each of the pieces in question from other scholarship in the field without taking too much space.  This review also discusses literature of first encounters, women of the Southern colonies, and other important figures in pre-1800 American literature.  The works Scheick describes may be useful for scholars or students looking to make connections across historical time periods or geographic locations and need suggestions as to what literature is available on a range of early American writers.

Toulouse, Teresa. “Where Do We Go from Here?: Early American Women and the End(s) of Feminist Critique.” Early American Literature 44.1 (2009): 195-213.Project MUSE. Web. 23 Jul. 2013.

Toulouse’s article provides an extensive review of past literature created focusing on feminism and early American and early modern literature.  The rationale behind this argument was an article in The New York Times discussing a shift in the attitudes of academics in the past couple of decades, from passionate politicized work to scholarship that is more focused on data and statistics.  Because of this, Toulouse argues, there is a shift away from feminism as a field of literary study and gravitating toward empirically-driven forms of study.

Toulouse also looks at male representations of women and women writers in these various forms of early literature.  In a somewhat complicated way, Toulouse concludes that it is possible for both theoretically-based feminist scholars can also work in conjunction with the new generation of literature academics to provide a new insight into how women and literacy function both within these early texts and how gender relations may have impacted the literacy of women of the time.  Toulouse argues that, by combining both the traditional, theory-based literary research with this surge in scholar working with empirical data, we can better study women of early American literature and better understand how literacy, women, and society all interacted.

Westerkamp, Marilyn J.  “Anne Hutchinson, Sectarian Mysticism, and the Puritan Order.”  Church History 59.4 (1990): 482-496.  JSTOR.  Web.  21 July 2013.

Westerkamp’s article takes a look at various interpretations of Anne Hutchinson’s fame in the scholarly community, which she describes as being close to that of a celebrity.  According to Westerkamp, Hutchinson enjoyed a certain fame during her life because both men and women liked her regardless of her alleged wrongdoings in the eyes of the church.  This article describes the current scholarship portraying Hutchinson as being anywhere from a threat to political stability to a social deviant to a rebel.  All of these roles and portrayals, Westerkamp argues, undermined the prevailing social order.

Westerkamp’s take on the various biographies and pieces of scholarship surrounding Hutchinson is interesting to consider in light of other scholarship representing her as being one type or another.  The author’s analysis of Hutchinson’s responses to Winthrop and others during her trial give a different perspective on how the Puritans viewed the worth of the individual, something Westerkamp also briefly looks at in her argument.  From a feminist perspective, Westerkamp cites Withington and Schwartz’s research regarding the political nature of the trial, and whether or not Hutchinson’s trial was actually held to decide her innocence or to display who within the community was the source of political, social, and religious power.

Withington, Ann Fairfax and Jack Schwartz.  “The Political Trial of Anne Hutchinson.”The New England Quarterly 51.2 (1978): 226-240.  JSTOR.  Web.  21 July 2013.

Withington and Schwartz’s article serves two purposes.  First, this article engages the debate as to whether or not Hutchinson was actually an Antinomian.  These writers argue that we cannot ascertain what Hutchinson’s religious and political persuasion was during this crisis because she never wrote her opinions down.  Additionally, Withington and Schwartz write that some historians who have tried to label Hutchinson as belonging to one side of the crisis or another are doing so incorrectly as they are interpreting the Antinomian period using cultural values that did not exist at the time of Hutchinson’s trial.

The other function of this article is looking at Hutchinson’s testimony at her trial in terms of what the authors call “primitive feminism.”  Withington and Schwartz, in looking at various assessments of Hutchinson’s actions throughout her trial, argue that scholars and readers cannot simply look at Hutchinson’s testimony as an early form of feminism because it defied the male-established status quo.  Instead, Withington and Schwartz argue, in a downplayed but important part of this piece, that we must not simply jump to a feminist justification in this case, but also consider other reasons for Hutchinson’s testimony.

Melville, Racism, and Bhabha

With the impending pressure of a civil war, Herman Melville produced a novella, Benito Cereno, which captures the racial tensions during the antebellum. The story exists at the very rim of what we call chaos and questions everything that whites believe to be civilized. Melville begs the question: How is it that we are smarter than what we call barbaric? Babo, the leader of the slaves being transported, is certainly smarter than Captain Delano or Don Benito. For the colonizer to bring into question everything a nation thinks about the edge of the “civilized” humanity, it becomes a reversal of the intelligent and the naïve. It is this very reversal that is seen throughout Benito Cerino—the group being colonized is not barbaric and the colonizers are not intelligent. This story can then be read as allegory for the racial tensions of the time.

Homi K. Bhabha, a well-known theorist of post colonialism,  has an idea that applies here. The scope of this essay will only allow me to examine it briefly; but it is worthwhile to understand its uses in Melville’s novella. For example, Bhabha’s theory of hybridity is a perfect tool for the story’s question of slavery. Hybridity is “the revaluation of the assumption of discriminatory identity effects” (1175). In short, just because it’s 1799 and the slave trade is a universal in the west, it is not one for those being colonized. Slavery cannot be “Truth” if it contradicts the ingrained ideas of black culture.

Bhabha makes reference to Indians being given a translated version of the bible; however, they are not able to accept it as a universal Truth because they would have to eat flesh (1177). However, slavery is a much more blatant form of hybridity. It is a truth to white normativity at the time the story was written because the African race was considered inferior. As Delano thinks: “Most negroes are natural valets and hairdressers […] Captain Delano took to negroes, not philanthropically, but genially, just as other men to Newfoundland dogs” (Melville 2435). This shows Delano’s degradation of Africans to beasts even though he is the one being utterly fooled by the slave Babo.

An incredibly interesting event in the novella appears when Delano spies a Spaniard tying knots. He goes forward to speak with the man who “looked like an Egyptian priest, making Gordian knots for the temple of Ammon” (2429).  Delano is puzzled—as normal—about the intricacies of the knot. He is told to: “Undo it, cut it, quick” (2429), but gives it to one of the slaves instead. It’s rational to conclude that Delano should understand that Alexander the Great “slipped the Gordian knot” by cutting it with his sword and then went on to conquer Asia. This small scene is an undeniable allusion to one of the greatest warmongers and territorial collectors of all time, and Melville throws the audience a hug, proverbial bone by alluding to some of the most savage colonization—just as the slave trade was—in the history of mankind.

The phrase “follow your leader” (Melville 2453), which is told in Benito Cereno’s deposition, is about as colonial as it gets. Babo is not some dumb beast and slavery is not a universal “Truth.” Furthermore, Babo’s comment about bones is the most illuminating speech on racism in the novella (2453). He realizes all bones are white, and ironically tells the Spaniards sine the bones are of the said color they must be from a white man. This plays on the notion of whiteness as an internal quality. For, once skin is removed, Babo and his companions have the exact same color skeletons.

Benito Cereno  is all about imperialism and post-colonialism sheds more light on the work which, in itself, reveals the very nature of what is “civilized” and what is “barbaric.” The novella takes the very fears of the time period and asks the reader to question what is right and what is wrong.

Works Cited

Bhabha, Homi K. “Distinction.” Literary Theory: An Anthology. Ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishing, 2004. 1167-1184. Print.

Melville, Herman. “Benito Cereno.” Norton Anthology of American Literature. Ed. Nina Baym. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2007. 2405-2461. Print.