Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2013

Document Type

Thesis

Department

English

First Advisor

Nan Goodman

Abstract

Work has always been a defining characteristic of American identity. This thesis explores the way that ideas about work in America were first expressed in literary form. Attention is paid to the work of William Bradford, John Winthrop, Robert Keayne and Cotton Mather. These Puritans all wrote as the Massachusetts Bay Colony was first being discovered and developed by English settlers. Their perspective thus reflects the first impressions and ideas of what constitutes work and work ethic in America. In delving more deeply into the text of these men, this thesis postulates that the common element in all of their writing is that work is presented both as a force that unites as well as a force that divides. The notion of class is described in various degrees of specificity, the historical conditions change the specific focus of each text, and each author has a particular perspective. What remains constant is the tension between unity and division vis-à-vis work that accompanies all of these texts. Contemporary American culture is, in part, inherited from the culture of the New England Puritans. The findings of this paper suggest that a part of that cultural inheritance is a view of work that provides both elements that bring society together as well elements as create rifts between people.

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