On the rare occasion when a contemporary American recalls “the Puritans,” the image likely to come to mind is of a killjoy, sure of his own spiritual rectitude, anxious to enforce it upon others, and possessed by the nagging fear that someone, somewhere, might be happy. “The Puritans,” we believe, could have had no appreciation of earthly beauty, let alone of sensual pleasure, because they saw this world darkly through the lens of their corrosive sense of universal sin and therefore lived only to pursue the radiance of the afterlife. This perspective, to modern readers, may seem mere simpleminded unreason and angry rant. Above all, we associate the historical Puritan with ministers and governors whose minds were blinded with patriarchal certitude of the most repellent sort. We imagine the Puritan to be smugly reflecting, in darkest night: “Because I know that God has elected me for an eternity of heavenly bliss, I am entitled to rule over all unworthy sinners, over all you women, children, and common laborers, and to force you to follow in my virtuous path. I have God's assurance that I am more pure than thou.”Less
Access to the complete content on Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Literature requires a subscription or purchase. Public users are able to search the site and view the abstracts and keywords for each book and chapter without a subscription. If you are a student or academic complete our librarian recommendation form to recommend the Oxford Research Encyclopedias to your librarians for an institutional free trial.
If you have purchased a print title that contains an access token, please see the token for information about how to register your code.