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Colonial American literature was largely influenced by British authors and was represented by narratives, journals, and letters. One of the most prominent writers of that period was William Bradford (1590-1657), whose most famous work, Of Plymouth Plantation, was regarded as an exceptional achievement both in literature and politics. Bradford’s works were focused on such themes as Puritanism, righteousness, patriotism, equality, democracy, and political relationships. The works written by Bradford had a profound effect on the literature of the period since they encouraged other authors to discuss similar themes and inspired them to raise patriotic feelings in the audience.
Probably the most significant theme that Bradford wrote about was that of righteousness reflected in Puritanism. Of Plymouth Plantation contained many descriptions of right and wrong ways of conduct. The book’s attempt to explain the difference between the two and the encouragement to alter one’s bad habits were some of the reasons why the book was highly esteemed (Sargent 389). Literary critics note that although the writer was not a Puritan, he managed to make a distinct influence on the colonial literature in this respect (Moran 44). The theme of righteousness, which occupied a prominent place in Bradford’s works, was reflected in the description of Puritans’ daily routine and favorite pastimes.
The author condemned such kinds of entertainment as playing cards or dancing and considers them immoral. Thus, scholars note that the topic of peaceful and rightful life was the most vividly represented in Bradford’s works. This theme was intertwined with the ideas of plain living and the adherence to God’s rules discussed by the writer (Gray 32-33). Bradford’s theological inclinations were even believed to make the book difficult to understand at times (Read 291). Still, the theme of religion was important to Bradford, and he paid much attention to it in Of Plymouth Plantation.
The unique writing style that Bradford owned allowed him to remain the most recognizable author of the colonial period. Because the most esteemed book containing a detailed description of life on the plantation, the theme of political relationships became another significant aspect of Bradford’s works. At first, the writer was amused by the establishment of the plantation and the considerable achievements it was making.
Thus, the prevailing motives in his Of Plymouth Plantation were those of the successful building of political connections and the beginnings of democracy. However, the positive impression was soon changed by disappointment, which became another topic of Bradford’s writing (Sargent 394). Along with this alteration, another important theme emerged: betrayal. Bradford realized that the American ideal, towards which his efforts had been directed, was not as easy to achieve as it had been expected and was not composed of solely positive features. As a result, the theme of disappointment in the political system replaced the previously predominant depiction of patriotism and democracy.
Another highly important theme disclosed by Bradford was that of slavery. The writer described his protest against that negative social movement in his An Exhortation and Caution to Friends Concerning Buying or Keeping of Negroes. It is impossible to underestimate the significance of this theme both in Bradford’s era and several centuries following it. The problem of inequality is still one of the major social debates in any society. Some people feel the lack of opportunities in education while others cannot pursue their dreams connected with the career because their prospective employers underestimate their abilities based on race or gender.
The variety of biases existing in modern society is so large that it may seem that Bradford’s endeavors were in vain. However, they were not, since those were the first attempts to reject the wrongdoing of the political leaders aimed at a specific population group (Gerbner 553). The condemnation of slavery by Bradford and his colleagues was one of the crucial steps against the inhumane treatment of people based on their skin color.
This theme is no less important than the issue of righteousness. All people should realize that their lives are not more important than the lives of other individuals merely because they have a different color of skin, more money, or some privileges. It is crucial to explain this to all society members who do not support equality, and Bradford was one of the first activists to do so.
William Bradford was much more than just a writer of the colonial period in American literature. In some aspects, he was not just a participant but a pioneer, which made his contribution to literature and democracy so important. Bradford was one of the first figures to condemn slavery and initiate a democratic society. Also, he was the defender of patriotic and righteous life within one’s community and country.
The effect that Bradford’s works had on his contemporaries was remarkable, which made him the most recognizable author of the colonial period. The themes raised by Bradford — patriotism, democracy, equality, and righteousness, among others — inspired both his contemporaries and writers from the following periods to disclose similar topics and encourage the readers to think differently about crucial aspects of life.
Gerbner, Katharine. “Antislavery in Print: The Germantown Protest, the “Exhortation,” and the Seventeenth-Century Quaker Debate on Slavery.” Early American Studies, vol. 9, no. 3, 2011, pp. 552-575.
Gray, Richard. A History of American Literature. Blackwell Publishing, 2004.
Moran, Eugene V. A People’s History of English and American Literature. Nova Science Publishers, 2002.
Read, David. “Silent Partners: Historical Representation in William Bradford’s Of Plymouth Plantation.” Early American Literature, vol. 33, no. 3, 1998, pp. 291-314.
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Sargent, Mark L. “William Bradford’s “Dialogue” with History.” The New England Quarterly, vol. 65, no. 3, 1992, pp. 389-421.