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Comparison of Early American Literature Essay

The two selections Of Plymouth Plantation by William Bradford and The General History of Virginia by John Smith are some of the earlier pieces of American literature.

Although they were both written in the same time period the style and attitudes vary greatly. William Bradford had a very direct form of writing; commonly known as “plain puritan” style, whereas, John Smith had a somewhat confusing, more elaborate, writing style. Bradford’s piece also seemed more accurate than John Smith’s account. For example, John Smith wrote of his capture by “…three hundred bowmen, conducted by the king of Pamunkee…” which seems more than a little exaggerated. After all, it generally doesn’t take three hundred men to capture one. Smith exaggerated many times in order to boast about himself.

There are many times when he refers to his greatness. In the following quote he boasts of his leadership skills and compassion for his fellow men while belittling his superiors: “The new President and Martin, being little beloved, of weak judgment in dangers, and less industry in peace, committed the managing of all things abroad to Captain Smith, who, by his own example, good words, and fair promises, set some to mow, others to bind thatch, some to build houses, others to thatch them, himself always bearing the greatest task for his own share, so that in short time her provided most of them lodgings, neglecting any for himself…” William Bradford, on the other hand, boasts about his colony: “…there was but six or seven sound persons who to their great commendations, be it spoken, spared no pains night or day, but with abundance of toil and hard of their own health, fetched them wood, made them fires, dressed them meat, made their beds, washed their loathsome clothes, clothed and unclothed them.”

Bradford and Smith, both leaders of their colonies, wrote of their hardships in the new world. Despite these similarities the way they acted was very different. When John Smith writes about the Native Americans he refers to them as “savages” and “barbarians.” He even calls Pocahontas, the girl who saved his life, “a young wench.” Bradford writes of the Native Americans as┬áhuman beings. He even had a peace treaty with them that lasted twenty-four years.

They also had different motifs for writing, which may contribute to the many differences. Smith wrote his selection to encourage people to come to America to find excitement and adventure. Bradford simply wanted to inform the readers of what the lives of colonists was really like.

As different are their writing styles, motifs, and views these two men share some common ground, one being they are some of the earliest works of American Literature. So no matter how different or alike Smith and Bradford’s writings are, History of Virginia and Of Plymouth Plantation will always be remembered as great American literature.


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