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The Puritan Origins of the American Self [Paperback]

By Sacvan Bercovitch (Author)
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Item Number 159554  
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Item Specifications...

Pages   260
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 9.26" Width: 6.05" Height: 0.77"
Weight:   0.9 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Jan 28, 2011
Publisher   Yale University Press
ISBN  0300021178  
EAN  9780300021172  

Availability  0 units.

Item Description...
From the author: "I wish to demonstrate the richness of the seventeenth-century New England imagination through a study of what I take to be a central aspect of our Puritan legacy, the rhetoric of American identity. I have centered my analysis on the interaction of language, myth and society, in an effort to trace the sources of our obsessive concern with the meaning of America, the long foreground to the astonishingly comprehensive ideal of the representative American, with its proportionately comprehensive claims and anxieties. I have chosen a narrow focus: Cotton Mather's title to his Life of John Winthrop--Nehemias Americanus, "The American Nehemiah." 250 pages, softcover. Yale University Press.

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More About Sacvan Bercovitch

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Sacvan Bercovitch is Powell M. Cabot Research Professor of American Literature at Harvard University.

Sacvan Bercovitch currently resides in the state of Massachusetts. Sacvan Bercovitch has an academic affiliation as follows - Harvard University, Massachusetts.

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Reviews - What do our customers think?
A Seminal, Challenging Analysis of Puritan Thought and its Importance in the Shaping of American Identity  Nov 20, 2006
Sacvan Bercovitch, Powell M. Cabot Professor of American Literature at Harvard University, presents in this important book an analysis of what he refers to as the "rhetoric of American identity" through the "sources of our obsessive concern with the meaning of America" (p. ix). He uses one central case study to explore this issue, "Nehemias Americanus," Cotton Mather's biography of John Winthrop, first published in 1702. In Winthrop Mather discovered not only "a reliable model of christic identity" (p. 24) but also the "idea of the exemplary American" (p. 35). This is especially because of Winthrop's sense of progress, wherein a "redemptive history" merged personal worth with national mission. Puritans, in Bercovitch's vision, saw themselves as "American Israelites, the sole reliable exegetes of a new, last book of scripture" (p. 113). He argues that Cotton Mather, perhaps the epitome of the Puritan thinker, assigned America the status of a "microcosm of the worldwide work of redemption, and macrocosm of the redemptive work underway in each of its chosen people" (p. 134). This blending of personal story--essentially a spiritual biography--with a national prophecy and mission has been a persistent theme in American history and was first apparent in the writings of the early American Puritans.

Bercovitch goes a step further with his analysis, however, by noting that this Puritan approach to personal/national identity provided a handy but complex structure for later generations to think of their place in the world. The result was a belief in human perfectibility and a strong utopian impulse in American intellectual thought and political tradition. From Thomas Jefferson's stirring statement in the Declaration of Independence that people must work to ensure that all receive their unalienable rights of "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness," to the sense of destiny in recent America, the quest for a better world has been a major subtext of every aspect of American life. As Bercovitch shows, this strain of thought offers a "celebration of the representative self as America, and of the American self as the embodiment of a prophetic universal design" (p. 136).

"The Puritan Origins of the American Self" is a difficult reading experience. It uses the language of hermeneutics in its analysis and routinely employs such jargon as "auto-American-autobiography." More importantly, some may appropriately conclude that Bercovitch overstates his case, questioning if the Puritan mindset permeated American character to the degree he claims. Even so, this is required reading for students of early American history. It offers an important interpretation of the intellectual legacy of Puritan thought on the United States.
Sacvan Bercovitch is a genius  Oct 12, 2005
This book is essential reading for any student of American culture or history. Bercovitch's unigue insight that connects our contemporary culture to our earliest origins will stay with you and illuminate your further reading on any aspect of American life.
Brilliant and Indispensable  Feb 21, 2000
This is the single most important study of the formation of "America"--its culture, history and literature. Professor Bercovitch's brilliant analysis of these Puritan texts should be essential reading to anyone even remotely interested in undertanding the often bizarre nature of American society. Working with original Puritan chronicles, diaries and other texts, Bercovitch shows that so much of what we take for granted in this culture has a distinctly Puritan origin. Read this book, and you will never view any aspect of this country the same way again.

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