Early American Literature Essay Test

  1. Compare and contrast Puritan culture and literature with that of the Southern culture in Early America. Use examples from the works we've read to support your statements.

  2. Discuss the differences between the Plain Style and the Ornate Style, using examples from various writers' works to support your statements.

  1. There are many similarities and differences between the Puritans, their culture and their literature, and that of their Southern counterparts. Both cultures valued work to some degree. Puritan literature was written plainly to reflect their plain lives, while Southern literature was ornate and decorated with colorful expressions, reflecting Southern life. The Puritans, unlike the Southerners, who lived slow paced lives, tried to glorify God in their every action. The similaries and differences present themselves in many ways.

    Work was important to Puritans as well as Southerners. To each culture, however, work had a different meaning. To the Puritans, work was physical labor, like tilling fields or building the homes of the colony. The work the Southerners valued was not physical labor but management. The Southerners had slaves to do the physical work, but without their masters the slaves did not get much done. This is revealed by W. Byrd in "A Progress to the Mines" when he is talking to Col. Spotswood on Spotswood's management of his land. Thus both accomplished work in different respects.

    Literature reflected the lives of both cultures. Puritan literature was plain and did not emphasize the writer, but tried to glorify God, as in W. Bradford's journal. Puritans used no similes or metaphors, because these glorified the writer, not God. Southerners, however, used showy language in literature much more freely. They believed in living life to the fullest, and this was shown through their literature as well as what possessions they had. Southern literature reflected Southern life, just as Puritan literature reflected Puritan life.

    The Puritans, in their lives, tried to glorify God in everything they did. They believed the best way to glorify God and also to get to heaven (or at least make one's neighbor believe he is going to heaven) was hard labor. The Puritans tried to see the connection to God in their own work, and their neighbors often checked on them, too. Southern life, though, wasn't as God-oriented. Things were grand for them, and they intended to enjoy themselves. They decorated their homes and their writing to show this.

    One can show several ways how the Puritans are alike and unlike the Southern colonists. Work was important to both. Literature reflected their lifes. Puritans had their God-oriented work ethic, while Southerners enjoyed the slow paced good life. These two seemingly different cultures proved not to be quite so different at all.

  2. There were in the North American English colonies two major writing styles: Puritan Plain and Ornate. Puritan Plain Style used little "showy language," because this glorified the writer, not God. Ornate Style, however, used showy language much more liberally. The Plain Style reflected Puritan life while the Ornate Style reflected Southern plantation-owner life. The two styles differed both in purpose and substance.

    Puritan Plain Style basically had an emphasis on nouns and verbs, the 'action' of the story. These were the most important elements of the story, and this is what the Puritans focused on. This writing style, because of its lack of descriptive language, can be somewhat difficult to read. An example of this is Bradford's "Of Plymouth Plantation." It tells what happened but little else. It doesn't arouse the same response as writing with more descriptive language would.

    Ornate Style was very different. These writers didn't hesitate in the slightest to put in generous amounts of adjectives and adverbs. These stories tended to focus on the description of the action. These writers freely used similes and metaphors to spice up the story. An example of this is Byrd's "A Progress to the Mines" where he compares Col. Spotswood to Tubalcain. This particular allusion, a reference to a previous work, mythology, or in this case, they Bible. Ornate Style writers wrote in this way to liven up an otherwise uninteresting account.

    The way the styles were was a direct reflection of the lifestyles of the writers. Plain Style tended to show the plain, hard working way of life of the Puritans. In fact, most Puritans' writings were in the form of journals, so they directly told about the work of the Puritans. Southerners worte in Ornate Style because they lived that way. They tried to enjoy life. They boasted of their accomplishments, and decorated their homes as they did their writing. This shows that the Puritans lived a different life than the Southerners.

    The two major early American writing styles were quite different. Plain Style told stories in an undescriptive way, telling only "who did what," in other words, the actions. Ornate Style stories went further, describing the action, using showy language. Both styles reflected the lives of their writers. Thus the writing styles of the Early Americans were very different, with a sort of "cultural chasm" diving them.

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