American Puritans in the 17th century were known for their fervor for personal godliness and doctrinal correctness. In addition to believing in the absolute sovereignty of God, the total depravity of man, and the complete dependence of human beings on divine grace for salvation, they stressed the importance of personal religious experience. In her novel Hope Leslie, Catharine Maria Sedgwick critiques the idea of Puritanism and shows its deficiencies through the characters of Everell Fletcher, Hope Leslie, and Magawisca.
A weakness of Puritanism that Sedgwick identifies is the idea that communal emotion and authority should take precedence over the desires and emotions of the individual. Some examples of this criticism are seen through the character of Everell Fletcher who is born and raised a Puritan but does not so easily conform to the pressures being placed upon him by both the public and his family.
The Puritans viewed the Indians as a savage people whom they were to conquer and convert. At age fourteen, Everell is certainly aware of this view, and yet he not only befriends, but arguably falls in love with Magawisca, an Indian servant in the Fletcher house. His mother’s concern over this is seen in a letter she writes to her husband addressing the issue of Everell and Magawisca’s mutual affection for one another: “‘…it is for thee to decide whether it be not most wise to remove the maiden from our dwelling. Two young plants have sprung up in close neighbourhood, may be separated while young; but if disjoined after their fibers are all intertwined, one, or perchance both, may perish.’” (33). Despite Mrs. Fletcher’s desire for Everell’s personal contentmen...
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... halo that encircled the pilgrims’
head; and not mark the dust that sometimes sullied
his garments (156).
In this text, Sedgwick identifies one of her qualms with Puritanism. She points out that Puritans view things that bring happiness as sin and things that are challenging and hard as obligations. She argues that Puritans lost the true meaning of God’s mercy but are still seen as perfect examples of godliness.
In her book Hope Leslie Catharine Maria Sedgwick forces the reader to understand and judge some of the 17th century Puritans’ ideas, two being the idea of communal interests being of more importance than personal interests and the idea of youth being completely subordinate to adults. Through the characters of Everell, Hope, and Magawisca, Sedgwick brings to light the often overlooked shortcomings of Puritanism.
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