American public opinion has developed almost exclusively in the form of religious teachings for nearly a century. According to the ideas of American Puritans who followed the tenets of the harsh Calvinism, art and literature did not make any sense. Their sole purpose was declared to serve the religion. All that was not directly connected with religion was considered immoral.
Puritan usually rejected imagery, he used only the tools that could facilitate the understanding of the truth, and preferred that they were drawn directly from the Bible ... All that hurt feelings and prevented to concentrate on the work, seemed dangerous to him (White 3).
The early literature of the country showed a gradual reorientation of artistic consciousness in the acquisition of the American experience by the colonists: an image of the New World as an earthly paradise faded in their hard life. John Smith casually used it, "CountyMassachusetts - true paradise of these places" (Murdock 89). Later, this image remained only in the fertile south for some time, and then, rather, as an artistic convention.
Thus, the uniqueness of the literary situation in the United States prior to Civil War is due to the transitional nature of the era and the emergence of an independent U.S. government. This literature is imitative, to a large extent, and the leading place belongs to the philosophical and political writings. However, this period marks the time when a process of formation of national consciousness and, therefore, of independent, creative thinking began.
In the North, a New England colonists` folklore faced with impassable jungles immediately settled them with all thoughts of devil incarnate, included into the system redskin, warlike savages. Looking into the eyes of the Indian people saw that Indians were ready to see in advance, guided by biblical understanding of the gentiles: just rage and lust. Even educated polyglot William Bradford was thinking about "sinister deaf jungles, home of wild beasts and wild man. However, the concept of "wilderness" and "jungle" acquired distinctly positive meaning by the end of next XVIII century, and a painting of the "wildlife" became an ideal image of America in the literature by the time of Cooper and Thoreau (XIX century).
The main features of the literature of that time determined by the fact that it was based on a purely religious consciousness. The source of all life views and the ultimate authority was the Bible. Life was conceived as a manifestation of divine predestination; therefore, what was happening was the result of the will of God, in the light of which true meaning opened. The other trait is related with a providential puritan thinking, and it was emblematic, expressed in the interpretation of an object or phenomenon as a sign or a symbol of the transcendent forces.
William Bradford, Anne Bradstreet, John Smith, Mary Rowlandson, and Edward Taylor got through the hard time, and they made America their home. These poets have many similar features in their works, and especially, religious beliefs were presented in their poems. They were puritans and the religion themes dominated in their lives.
Bradford was not an author of agreement, although he was involved in its drafting as one of the most influential members of the Puritan communities. However, he retained this valuable document of the period for posterity, bringing it in the diary completely. Describing the history of the origin and existence of the colony, as a true Puritan, Bradford focused on the secret meaning of events as they are opening their providential sense. There was a talk about the sinfulness of human nature, but in contrast to most members of the Puritan elite, he was not inclined to religious fanaticism. Rational judgment, based on common sense, often won over the Puritan dogma. The narrative ends with the story of the elimination of Plymouth settlement whose members affected by different disasters have decided to merge with the Massachusetts Bay Colony. This end was in his own emblematic, revealing the collapse of the great puritan utopia: creation in America’s "City of the Lord”.
Genre of sermon received an outstanding resonance in America, and it was especially popular in poetic tradition. Of course, the cultural context of one or another region imposed a significant mark on its literature. For example, a historical chronicle literature often took the character of "jeremiads", a story of sorrows and difficulties, both physical and spiritual (On the Plymouth settlement W. Bradford).
John Winthrop has peculiar narrative features, and, similar to Bradford, he has clearly manifested them in his works. He shared a common belief of the Puritans regarding the dual nature of all phenomena, whereby an emblematic meaning is hidden behind the visible. In his sermon, A Modell of Christian Charity (1630), with the story about Arabella’s on board sailing to America, he defined the mission of the Puritans as the creation of God, "city on the hill". The aristocratic prejudices influenced the Winthrop's views, and his Puritan utopia became elitist. Describing the position of Winthrop, an American researcher P. Miller wrote:
As if miraculously feeling that America might mean for ordinary people, Winthrop took steps to completely knock out of their heads an idea that poor and miserable would achieved such a cultivator in the desert that they would surpass rich and famous people in dignity (Miller 5).
As Bradford, Bradstreet shows herself an orthodox Puritan in her poetry. However, the main impetus of her poetry served not so much towards the desire to express basis of Calvinism in verse, but rather to reflect her own experiences and life observations. Her thoughts of the abstract, but most of the moral themes often, especially in the later poems, are animated by the personal experiences. Bradstreet clearly emerges personality in poetry because of general ideological and moral principles of Puritanism. There is the subjective perception of a major positive impact in the paintings of the surrounding nature, and in the sketches of family life, giving them a soulful sound.
Despite genre affiliation, works of literature New England were revolving around the relevance to society of biblical maxims and had didactic character. Most often, puritan poems were made by preachers, who corresponded to their professional calling. However, as noted by P. Miller, Anne Bradstreet and her late contemporary, Edward Taylor (1642-1729), began to develop the real history of American poetry in the strict sense of the word. Anne Bradstreet was the first female poet of New England. The U.S. women's literature began with her works, due to her unique themes and techniques of writing.
Like other Puritan authors, Taylor did not think of poetry without reference to religion, and saw his task in bringing the light of Christian ideas. There are two major genres of the time in his works: a didactic poem presented by Predestination of the Elect of God, meditative lyrics,- two series of "meditation". He wrote them throughout his life, parallel to the sermons on the biblical text. There is also a small group of poems written on various occasions.
Thus, formation of American literature is associated with the emergence of the first English colonies on the Atlantic coast in the early XVII century. American literature has appeared as a result of spin-off from English literature. The special nature of literature was connected due to the effect of "aesthetic gap”. In fact, there was the stamp of imitation in literary production during the colonial period. Imitation is one of the most important aesthetic attitudes of the youth literature. John Smith, William Bradford, Mary Rowlandson Anne Bradstreet, and Edward Taylor based theirs works on puritan canons, because they lived in such a society.