Calvinism: A Look Into Domestic Life

2075 words - 9 pages

Catharine Sedgwick’s novel, A New-England Tale, tells the story of an orphan, Jane Elton, who “fights to preserve her honesty and her dignity in a household where religion is much talked about but little practiced” (Back Cover). The story takes place in the 1820s, when many children were suffering in silence in the homes of Calvinist parents. The author herself was raised by a Calvinist woman and realized how unjust things were for her and how her upbringing had ultimately had a negative effect on her prosperity. Sedgwick uses her A New-England Tale to express to her readers how dreadful life was, being raised by Calvinist women, and its affects by depicting domestic life. She takes her ...view middle of the document...

Wilson. Sedgwick used this situation to express the lack of personal judgment children were allowed in Calvinist homes and how they were given few opportunities to make decisions for themselves. She emphasizes, “Children have no reason” showing how little Calvinist parents thought of the abilities of children to judge and make decisions on their own. When these children grow up their decision making skills are poor because they have not been able to develop them.
During this introductory moment when Mrs. Wilson is establishing her rules to Jane, Sedgwick inserts a notable idea. Mrs. Wilson is unconsciously making herself her children’s conscience by being the one that they refer to for every decision. As the children continue to develop throughout their lives, only knowing the subjective viewpoints of Mrs. Wilson could bias their everyday actions. Their lives could be lived out Calvinistic but as they get older, the oppressive nature of their upbringings could lead them to be anti-Calvinist. Her judgment does not appear to be up to par at this moment in the text and she does not appear to be qualified for this position but regardless, assumes it. This is a significant scene because it portrays how Calvinist women stepped outside of the motherly role. The typical role of a mother is to help a child develop their own reasoning allowing them to make their own positive decisions when necessary but not to play the role of a conscience for them. By doing so, they limit the development of their children’s conscience, idealistic morals and creativity.
A very interesting phrase that Sedgwick chooses to use, “fallen into the hands,” carries a potent connotative meaning. The phrase is referenced back to the bible scripture, “I am in great distress. Let us now fall into the hand of the Lord for his mercies are great, but do not let me fall into the hand of man” (KJV 2 Samuel 24:14). This scripture relates to the story of David and his submission to the Devil’s work. The Lord has offered him options for punishment that all leave him in the hands of his peers and he refuses to accept any knowing that “falling into the hands” of man is the worst of the things that could happen to him. When one “falls into the hands” of man, it means that they have given them control over their mind or that they have assumed that position. In Jane’s case, Mrs. Wilson has assumed this controlling position and Jane is now left to suffer in human hands. Sedgwick’s relation to a bible reference is important because Calvinists believe that the bible is God’s word and thus unfailing.
Throughout the novel, Mrs. Wilson does not follow the teachings of the bible and is involved in corrupt actions that would not be described as Christian according to the advices of the bible. Her hypocrisy is obvious in the novel and is one of the characteristics that Sedgwick makes stand out above the rest. She shows how these Calvinist women were not as faultless as they appeared to be and that...

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