2 puritans Jonathan Edward and Edward Taylor

Here’s a brief guide to how to get started on the major essay. As an example, I’ll use Option 2: Describe some of the central principles of Puritan ideology and illustrate their significance in specific literary works.

For this prompt, I’d start off by considering some of the key beliefs of Puritanism. I’m just copying and pasting from the first lecture here:

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Belief in the need to purify Christian beliefs and practice
Belief in the literal truth of the Old Testament
Belief in “Original Depravity” – we are born sinners
Belief in “Limited Atonement” – no worldly ritual or prayer will ensure salvation; no human action or gesture of faith obliges the Almighty to respond
Belief in “Predestination” – God had chosen those who would be saved before birth
Belief in the “Covenant of Grace” – the agreement Christ made with all people who believed in him, sealed by the Crucifixion, promising eternal life
The belief that no Pope or Bishop had the right to impose God’s law
Belief in intense study of the bible, moral self-examination, and active membership in the congregation
Belief in individual responsibility – a direct and personal relationship with God
A belief that doers of evil suffer and are destroyed; true believers and doers of good may suffer as well, as worldly misfortune is both a test of faith and a signifier of God’s will

You could pick just one or two of these and discuss multiple texts with each one, or you could choose one of these per body paragraph and discuss how it is expressed in 1-2 writers’ works.

Which of these beliefs do their texts show? I’ll use the example of Bradstreet since I like her work so much. She shows #6, #8, #9, and #10 in her various works. Consider the “Upon the Burning of Our House…” poem. When her house is burning, she cries out to God because she believes she has a direct and personal relationship with Him: “to my God my heart did cry/To strengthen me in my Distressed” (lines 8-9). She considers that God owns everything and that she should not be so attached to her worldly goods, which is a form of self-examination and reflection as well as her acknowledgment that bad things happen to good people to test their faith. Then she writes about her hopes of heaven and eternal life: “Thou hast a house on high erect/ Fram’d by that mighty Architect” because she believes Christ died for her sins: “It’s purchased, and paid for too/ By him who hath enough to doe” (43-44; 47-48).

You could go back through some of the other Puritan works and think about which of those key beliefs they show. I wouldn’t suggest trying to use all of the works or all of the beliefs: pick and choose them based on which works you can discuss best.

Then set up your outline. You know you’ll need 1-2 paragraphs per page and at least four full pages. That’s about 7-8 paragraphs (you could plan it with seven and add an eighth paragraph if necessary later). Here’s one way to set up your outline:

Alternately, you could choose very few authors and discuss multiple beliefs for each one:

Bradstreet: Belief #8
Bradstreet: Belief #6
Bradstreet: Belief #10
Edwards: Belief #8
Edwards: Belief #10

A thesis for this paper might say: Bradstreet and Edwards illustrate the key Puritan beliefs of moral self-examination and earthly suffering as a test of God’s will.

Just make sure that you focus on one main idea per body paragraph. Try not to get to the point that you’re discussing everybody’s work and every belief in the list form. That’ll be overwhelming and won’t leave room for deeper discussion. Think about choosing fewer points and proving them more thoroughly. You could organize the paragraphs by the key beliefs or by the authors; that’s up to you.

Now here’s how to include your extra sources. Take the second outline for example I would use Bradstreet’s works and Edwards’ sermon as my primary sources. Then I would look for secondary sources that help me understand Bradstreet and Edwards better. I’d use the databases to look up keywords, like Bradstreet and suffering, Bradstreet and grace, Bradstreet and heaven, Bradstreet and misfortune. I’d look over any promising articles and then do similar searches for articles on Edwards.

I’d be looking for articles that directly support my paragraph topics and help explain things or give examples to the reader. For instance, if I found a good article on Edwards and self-examination, I would include that in paragraph 5 above.

Please note that our course lectures, introductions/overviews of the authors – including those within our textbook, and our textbook’s official website are not the same as literary-critical articles found through the library databases or eBooks. They offer overviews of the topics and authors, not the type of in-depth analysis you need. While you may use them as extra sources, you should not rely on them to meet your source requirements.

(Note: I abbreviated the Puritan beliefs with numbers in my outline and notes. Of course, I wouldn’t really number the beliefs in an essay. I would write them out each time.)

Also, you may use more than the minimum number of sources if you like. You may also write a longer paper if you like. I do not assign a penalty for exceeding the requirements (e.g. an essay that is too long, too many sources); the only penalties are for not meeting the minimum requirements (an essay that is too short, not enough sources, not using primary + secondary sources, etc.).

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