Themes in Early American Literature Essays

1568 Words May 25th, 2013 7 Pages
Themes of Early American Literature

Early American literature does a tremendous job of revealing the exact conditions and challenges that were faced by the explorers and later by the colonists of the New World. From early shipwrecks to the later years of small colonies barely surviving through dreadful winters, the literary works of the time period focus on some very recognizable themes. The theme of any given work – being simply the unifying subject or idea – is a very important element of any piece of writing. As one reviews some of this early literature, it becomes obvious that several themes appear repeatedly, and it is these subjects that were clearly very common among people from all over the New World. While a number of themes can
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The explorer narratives, however, were not the only ones which described a dark and forbidding quality of the New World. The colonists at Jamestown and all along the eastern coast suffered through harsh winters with minimal supplies, causing many deaths and making life in the New World extremely challenging. For example, in William Bradford’s Of Plymouth Plantation he remarks that 50 of the 102 Pilgrims who landed at Plymouth had died within the first year (Perkins and Perkins 50). The reasons for the high number of deaths in the colonies vary, but disease and harsh winters certainly claimed their share. In addition, the colonies struggled to establish crops and solid dwellings for months or years after they first landed, and supply ships proved to be unreliable at best. John Smith of the Jamestown Colony is responsible for writing The General History of Virginia, New England, and the Summer Isles in which he depicted the grievous condition of the colonists only days after the ships departed and left them to the mercy of the land (Reuben 6). He wrote, “Being thus left to our fortunes, it fortuned that within ten days scarce ten amongst us could either go, or well stand, such extreme weakness and sickness oppressed us.” (Perkins and Perkins 36). In the same piece of literature, Smith also noted another very ominous threat to the well-being of the…