The Innovators of American Literature
From their critical assessments on how to improve themselves and to the American public that they influenced by their writings, Jonathan Edwards and Benjamin Franklin illustrate American themes in their personal narratives that quintessentially make part of American Literature. Although they lived in different times during the early development of the United States of America and wrote for different purposes, they share common themes. Their influence by their environment, individualism, proposals for a better society, and events that affected their society generate from their writings. By analyzing Jonathan Edwards' "Personal Narrative," "Resolutions," "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," and selections from Benjamin Franklin's The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin found in The Heath Anthology of American Literature: Third Edition Volume One edited by Paul Lauter, the fundamental themes in American literature are evident and their individual ideas are distinctive.
These personal narratives reveal the influences of their environment that gave them epiphanies to their closer perfection of themselves. Jonathan Edwards' "Personal Narrative" shows his journey towards a closer relationship to God. His family was followers of the Congregationalist Church, and from early childhood, he followed a Christian life (Lauter 569). In the beginning of his autobiography, "Personal Narrative," he says "I had a variety of concerns and exercise about my soul from my childhood; but had two more remarkable seasons of
awakening, before I met with that change, by which I was brought to those new dispositions, and that new sense of things, that I have had" (Lauter 581). Edwards endures a "rite of passage," which brings him closer to God. These epiphanies assisted on his assessment of becoming a better man in the eyes of God and minister to his community.
Benjamin Franklin did not hold his family beliefs of Christianity, but from his early environment, he drew his relationship to God as a Deist. Franklin believed there is a Supreme Being and it is our job to discover our own reality by reasoning. In his autobiography, he notes several epiphanies that changed his lifestyle. For example, he regretted his leaving Miss Read for England without pursuing their relationship further. He calls these regrets or wrongdoings "Erratum" (Lauter 788).
The spirituality of Franklin and Edwards is distinctive, and their writings reflect their experiences and growth of improvement. Franklin as a Deist felt that he created his destiny by the decisions he made. His autobiography illustrates his faults and accomplishments. This openness aims to the audience, the American, in order for them to reevaluate themselves and improve from their weaknesses. Franklin wanted Americans to become better Americans. With Edwards' beliefs, he felt that god predestined every man, and only the "elect" entered in the afterlife to heaven. He focuses his...