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Americans have had tons of heroes come and go, some a lot more famous than others but all still very important. An American as Henry David Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience” implies means to stand by what you believe is right. Patriotism for the freshly formed country is the last definition of what makes up your average American hero. The identity of what an American should be has changed in many ways from the 1600’s to the 1800’s. John Winthrop, Anne Bradstreet, Henry David Thoreau, and Thomas Jefferson are all definitions of what an American should be.
John Winthrop was not only a Puritan but the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, who arrived in Massachusetts in 1630. Winthrop wrote the excerpt “A Model of Christian Charity” which was delivered aboard the ship Arbella on April 8, 1630. He wrote to warn his fellow Puritans that they would have to live according to the principles of charity and love by doing so he wanted his ideas on the ways Puritan settlers should treat each other in order to help themselves and their colony survive.
“The eyes of all people are upon us, so that if we
shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and by-word throughout the world. We shall open the mouths of enemies to speak evil of the ways of God and all professors for God’s sake. We shall shame the faces of many of God’s worthy servants, and cause their prayers to be turned into curses upon us till we be consumed out of the good land whither we are going”(A Model of Christian Charity), Winthrop wrote that God will judge them based on their position as a “city on a hill”.
This metaphor is the key to this excerpt. It is saying that they are the set example for their religion, and everyone is watching them build this Christian ‘“Utopia”. For if they fail, the wrath of God shall be brought upon them. To be an American at this time meant to be religiously based. During this time Roger Williams was punished for sending a letter to him saying that the king and colonist had no right to take land from the natives. Also, Anne Hutchinson who was a spiritual adviser among the Puritans was banished after questioning the beliefs of some of the appointed religious leaders.
The author of two prized poems changed American history for women writers in 1650. Anne Bradstreet was one poet who wrote for her benefit and to escape from the reality that was her life in New England. When Anne Bradstreet arrived she wrote The Tenth Muse which is a collection of poems about her life and equality. Bradstreet is another representation of what it means to be an American. Bradstreet represents this by being an educated woman at this time while also writing how she feels. In Bradstreet’s the “Prologue”, she describes the struggles of women writers. While proving that women can write just as well if not better than men with her outstanding vocabulary and cunning wording. Bradstreet was clever with her words by insulting the male readers indirectly but on purpose with her slick words. “I am obnoxious to each carping tongue. Who says my hand a needle better fits, a poet’s pen all scorn I should thus wrong, for such despite they cast on female wits: If what I do prove well, it won’t advance, they’ll say it’s stolen, or else it was by chance.”(Anne Bradstreet). This piece brings equality to the table of which it means to be an American.
Henry David Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience” is stating that doing what you believe is right is the way it should be without any repercussions, but there is a major flaw in his beliefs. Not everyone has the same idea which means not everything a person will say or think will be right and somethings some people will agree on. For example, Someone could think it’s right to kill a person for speaking offensively to one of their leaders or someone of higher ranking, but we know that is not right. Although there is a flaw in his beliefs, there is also some truth to the points he makes. Thoreau also states “But, to speak practically and as a citizen, unlike those who call themselves no-government men, luck I ask for, not at once no government, but at once a better government. Let every man make known what kind of government would command his respect, and that will be one step toward obtaining it.”(Civil Disobedience). This quote insists that men should choose who they want to represent them based on what their beliefs are.
Thomas Jefferson wrote the first draft of the Declaration of Independence which became a big part of American history and what it meant to be an American. The Declaration of Independence is a sign of strength, free will, independence, and patriotism. The cause of the American Revolution triggered patriotism, and this led to the world’s greatest breakup letter, the Declaration of Independence. The quote “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” The Declaration of Independence is saying we are ready to our own nation. This is America leaving the nest and fending for itself now. Being independent, self-reliant, and strong are all causes as to what it means to be an American.
John Winthrop, Anne Bradstreet, Henry David Thoreau, and Thomas Jefferson are some of the most powerful people who made a big impact on America and represented America as something more than themselves. They have defined what it means to be an American in many different ways over the course of time. While staying true to themselves, they showed the world what they could do and that is why they changed the course of history with their literature.
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