- article - Literature - The impact of religion

The impact of religion

‘Puritanism and Providentialism inexorably shape the course of the American mind.’ How pervasive is the impact of religion on American literary history?

  • Assessment: Essay
  • Mark: A
  • Year: 2005
  • Wordcount: 2166

Puritan ideology and providential meaning, which is reflected in the aim to begin anew through entering a new continent, creating a new history and living a new dream, becomes central to the spirit of America. On the one hand the existing relation between religion and literature has a forming effect on the “American frame of mind, form of sensibility or mode of experience” (Gunn 1979: 127) on the other hand it challenges and even undermines the pure existence of the American mind. Thus, scholars see “Puritanism, along with the frontier spirit, romanticism, and realism” as an important influence on American writing (Reising 1986: 49).

Over the decades this American frame of mind calls up varieties and modifies the understanding of faith and God. Puritans understanding of a perfect community with traditional values, which is reflected in the Scarlet Letter is altered through Huck’s satirical behaviour and literal religious understanding in an unjust society and almost fades away in Gatsby’s materialistic anonymity. Therefore the reader of American literature has to trace a trail where religious understanding alternates and guides beyond the frontier of mind into a “drama of American history and identity” (Reising 1986: 50).

Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter is an impressive example for omnipresent religion in literature. The Scarlet Letter defines puritan awareness of sin followed by punishment and isolation as the frame and centre of society in 17th Century Boston.This puritan community, which can be seen as confined through its struggle for salvation, forms the surrounding in which Hester Prynn, Arthur Dimmesdale and Roger Chillingworth live three different consciousnesses of sin…

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