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The CanadianReview of American Studies, Volume IX, Number 2, Fall, 1978 PuritanTheories of History InHawthorne's Fiction Paula K. White Traditionally, interest in the nature of Puritan influence on Nathaniel Hawthorne has centered upon two issues: the accuracy of his historical settings and thecentralityof themes of good and evil in his work. 1 As I intend to demonstrate , however,it is the Puritans' historical views, rather than their theological \iewsor "quaint" practices, which provide a sense of Puritanism in the Hawthorne canon. Although Puritan historical views are bound to religious concepts, more importantly they predicate philosophical theories of history, andit is this theoretical or secular construct which Hawthorne explores in hisfictionand which explains his characteristic literary techniques. 2 I Studentsof Hawthorne are fortunate in having available to them a record ofthebooks and historical collections that Hawthorne charged out from the Salem Athenaeum from 1828-50.3 The list shows him to have been particularly interestedin Puritan historical writings, such as John Winthrop's Journal, NathanielMorton's New-Eng/ands Memorial, Increase Mather's Remarkable Providences, and Cotton Mather's Magnalia Christi Americana. Theterm "providential" is commonly applied to all these works and to Puritanhistoriography in general to indicate belief in divine control. But a closer analysis is necessary because Puritan histories evidence two discrete aspects ofdivine control, "providential" and "redemptive," each term identify- 136 Paula K. White ing a distinct historiographic mode. In providential history, God activelv intervenes in men's daily affairs on earth, whereas in a redemptive historic;] outlook he has prearranged the grand periods of history. Increase Mather provides the classic example of the providential outlook. His Remarkable Providences is a compendium of unusual incidents occurring to New Englanders, including "sea-deliverances," persons "possessed"by demons and evil spirits, apparitions and witchcraft, the religious attainments of deaf and dumb persons, incidents involving lightning, hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods, sudden deaths and "miraculous" recoveries from illness. Such incidents are expressly attributed to God in a flat, unemotional tone. 4 Providential history leads to a kind of cause-and-effect moral universe in which tragedies are often considered "judgments" of God on sinnersor warnings to reform before it is too late. Fortunate occurrences, however, are not simply rewards for good deeds but, above all, mercies granted, forno man can himself merit benign treatment by God. Providential history thus leads directly to moral considerations thatare completely removed from notions of history in their usual temporal and earthly significance. Events in providential history are examined in isolation from each other; the direction is vertical and may be envisioned as a column of moral evaluation with heaven above and hell below. God may strikedead a sinner, or he may save twelve men for five weeks in a small boat. Although man cannot be sure (the ways of God are inscrutable), it is likely that those who are struck dead are evil and that those saved are good; however, allmen are sinners in a Puritan view, and sudden death can afflict the elect as well as the damned. Providences, then, do not answer the question of individual salvation; instead, they keep raising the central issue of Puritan existence, thus making one's moral life immediate and active. The history of redemption, on the other hand, concerns itself not withthe individual but with the community of saints, the invisible spiritual church. the group of all those selected from the world for heaven. This historical outlook is called "redemptive" because Christ's redemptive activity iscentral. Jonathan Edwards, in History of Redemption, divides all of history into three periods: the Fall to the Incarnation, the period which prepared thewa) for Christ; his Incarnation to his Resurrection, the time when the workof redemption was actually accomplished; and the Resurrection to the End ofthe World, the period which fulfills promises and prophecies made in earlier periods and which reaps the rewards of Christ's work on earth. 5 In contrast to providential history, time is crucial to redemptive history, conceivedin grand, sweeping periods from Creation to Final Judgment. Associated with this view is the method of biblical exegesis knownas typology. Through typology the events of the Old Testament are seento prefigure Christ in the New Testament, whose actions there...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 135-153
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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