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The Effects of Enlightenment Ideals on American Literature


The Enlightenment period was regarded as a fascinating moment around the world following the entrance of new ideas and thinking into society, particularly the civic equality mindset. The lower classes were improving their abilities to participate in the environment around them. These were not merely days of fresh thinking; they were days of people altering their minds about everything, particularly how they saw their political and religious leaders. The theories of French thinkers such as François Voltaire and Jean Jacques Rousseau formed the basis of the Enlightenment, popularly known as the Age of Reason. The period was mainly characterized by the emergent of a movement that embraced science, logical thought, progress, individuality, and fact-based knowledge acquisition (Moss, Joyce, and George Wilson)

It was a period when a sliver of Puritanism remained, and societies were growing acclimated to a more open and liberal approach to religion, believing it being okay for individuals to make errors and living the way they felt it should be lived. During the Enlightenment, many prominent characters emerged as they began to distribute a large number of flyers and booklets to spread the news about the New Age. It, especially the technical achievements that resulted from science, were seen positively by Enlightenment philosophers. In fact, science has become so vital to many people that religion has become a secondary issue.

During the 1700s, the movement was restricted to the upper crust of the American populace, although the nineteenth-century Industrial Revolution sparked a widespread dissemination of Enlightenment values to the ordinary public. Thus, Science and technology have become nationwide emblems of development in the United States. The freshness of new ideas that created multi-controversial subjects throughout New England propelled the most brilliant authors and benefactors into history during this period. Many important persons were motivated by the movement; for example Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson were two of the many characters who decided to follow the times and as a result they became leaders in this period of change, leading the world into a new dawn of existence (Moss, Joyce, and George Wilson). Becoming a free nation was crucial to the birth of this new period, since without independence from Great Britain, the movement and ideas would have remained just that: a concept, never coming to fruition. It is critical to comprehend the essential features of the Enlightenment, including prominent figures at the outset of this movement, the central principles of civic participation, the political changes it brought about, and the literature materials produced by the movement. However, religion was not only something to ponder about on Sundays for Puritans in New England; it was an integral component of their daily lives. They thought God had chosen them into their respective professions, whether they were farmers, surgeons, or sea captains. Surprisingly, while most Puritans worked hard at their jobs and consistently attended church services, avoided alcohol, and saw pride and untruthfulness as dreadful faults, their actions were not motivated by determination to earn their entrance into paradise. According to them, God had already decided who was eligible to join him after death: it was God’s unknown decision, not their own goodness that defined where everyone would spend their afterlives (Rahn).

Fresh brains were developing new ideas on how to enhance American society with each passing day throughout the Enlightenment Period. Many poets, authors, and novelists would talk for hours about how amazing and invigorating this new wave of social connection was for their writing, and how it provided them the impetus they needed to keep going with their projects. Philip Freneau, a militiaman of the American Revolution who was kidnapped by the British Army and held hostage aboard their ship for a long time, was one of the most famous poets to emerge from this period. He wrote numerous different poems on the fight with the British during his captivity and after his release. This gained him the label “Poet of the American Revolution,” which he is said to have liked because his poetry meant a lot to him and carried a strong message. He had a democratic writing style that progressed into sophisticated neoclassicism, demonstrating his singular abilities as a writer (Van Spanckeren). Many other poets from the time period emerged, but they were ordinary citizens before turning to writing; many of them are political figures who emerged from the American Revolution, such as Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and there was Thomas Paine with his pamphlets, Leaf pamphlets, which were the dominant form of literature at the period, were used to disseminate information and literature. During British rule, Benjamin Franklin, a modern-day philosopher with a well-off education and a renowned printer and publisher in these times, was a huge supporter of American liberty and was a modern-day philosopher with a well-off education and was a renowned printer and publisher in these times; he’d print out pamphlets on the approaching end of tyranny and the birth of a new country in the image of the people. He developed the Poor Richards Almanac, and his autobiography became one of the country’s best self-help books. He had the zeal and passion of a patriot and the morals of a well-enamored gentleman, and he always believed that people can be good people if they follow a set of moral rules and a strict schedule, which will aid in their social development and ability to manage their time well enough to have as little downtime as possible. Too much leisure, he believed, was an excellent way for people to become complacent and lazy, something he did not want people to become accustomed to.

It was during this period that numerous writers and fictional characters emerged. On the other hand, the English folklore and literature did not freely flow into the Americas, although in a limited way it did. It was a period when the American authors and people were fully prepared to chart their own way of life and thinking. Thus, they to use people and events of this period as inspirations and motivation for their groundbreaking future works. One of the greatest fictional writer of this time was Charles. He was regarded the people of colonies and the literature community as the first “professional” writer in Americas, and despite being an American novelist, he was influenced by important British thinkers and writers in his writing, yet he remained loyal to America. Brown was a successful writer characterized by his clever intellect, having completed four books within two years. As a dynamic author of his time, he developed a totally new genre of writing commonly known as the American Gothic (cite), which centered on castles, ancient ruins, and other similar topics. He was well-liked by his colleagues, and he was well-respected by them. Even though he was a staunch admirer of America, his writings revealed that he had reservations about how the new nation would grow and how it could require some further work before it could operate as a prosperous country. Another renowned Enlightenment writer was Washington Irving and his style was unmistakably his own, as did his ability to produce picturesque paintings. His work consisted of grandiose and folkloric stories, and he developed the timely and legendary American folk story Rip Van Winkle, which demonstrated that America was already starting to manage its own heritage, and that everything was possible for this country with the assistance of an innovative writer. His photographs always drew crowds and assisted people in adjusting to the new Americas and its geography; for example, he might transform a lonely stretch of ground into a breathtaking and beautiful image that would take your breath away. This era also witnessed the works of James Fenimore Cooper who was a brilliant thinker from New York. His family lived on top of a major Native American massacre site. Cooper is the inventor of the ability to transform a rough-looking frontiersman’s persona and adventures into tales of being a real gentleman while remaining unaffected. He changed the frontiersman from a gruff, harsh man of the woods to the Christian knight of medieval legends, then transferred him to America’s virgin territory and difficult terrain. Although written about 1740, Jonathan Edwards was a prolific author in “Personal Narrative.” Most of his literature materials were written in about 1740s and many of them were not published until after his death. The personal narrative is highly regarded by many scholars to be some sort of spiritual autobiography. Thus, Edwards, just like other Puritans such as Cotton Mather, John Winthrop, and William Bradford is preoccupied with theological reflection. Edwards describes his spiritual evolution through childhood and youth in “Personal Narrative.” Edwards’s belief in man’s sinfulness is well demonstrated in the “Personal Narrative” and his need for spiritual awakening is well taught on his sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” did. Edwards recognizes God’s sovereignty, as does Puritan theology, “in granting compassion to those hardening and He will show mercy and eternally condemning whom He will eternally damn.” (Battenburg).


In conclusion, the age of Enlightenment was a new dawn and had a significant impact on early American literature. Thus, this allowed a certain group of elites who had previously held particular views to explore the world around them and open their mind. The era made many people feel good about themselves. Many writers were allowed to completely practice originality in their work. The ultimate sense of independence from Britain and the subsequent emergence of early American literature, new characters, and original themes were all applauded as it demonstrated that many writers were now free people, and more importantly, free minds.

Work Cited

Teague, David. “The Autobiography of John C. Van Dyke: A Personal Narrative of American Life, 1861–1931 ed. by Peter Wild.” Western American Literature 29.1 (1994): 78-79.

Pascal Covici. Humor and Revelation in American Literature : The Puritan Connection. Columbia, University Of Missouri Press, 1997.

‌Alfred Owen Aldridge. Early American Literature : A Comparatist Approach. Princeton, N.J., Princeton University Press, 1982.

‌Slauter, Eric. “The Literature of Revolution and the Origins of Ideological Origins.” Eighteenth-Century Studies 50.3 (2017): 303-308.

Bald, Emily K. “The Pragmatist Turn: Religion, the Enlightenment, and the Formation of American Literature.” (2019): 350-353.

Bigelow, John. Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. BoD–Books on Demand, 2020.

VanSpanckeren, Kathryn, and George Clack. Outline of American literature. 2015.

Moss, Joyce, and George Wilson, eds. Literature and Its Times Vol. 2: Profiles of 300 Notable Literary Works and the Historical Events that Influenced Them. Gale, 1997.


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