Monday, February 18, 2013

Pondering the Puritans With Miller and Demos: The Platypus Reads Part CCXI

Reading Arthur Miller's The Crucible for the first time has helped to fill in one of those lamentable holes in my high school reading experience.  Also pushed off till adulthood was Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter.  I'm catching up.  What can I say?

Well, what I can say is that the historian in me itches every time I seem see the Puritans deliberately demonized to serve their descendants various pathologies: religious, political, psychological, or otherwise.  Now don't get me wrong: I enjoy Hawthorne and Miller and will be re-reading their masterfully crafted works many times over (D.V.).  Still, as a historian and former resident of Olde New England, there's a part of me that can't stand to see history brutalized to serve an agenda.

Satisfying that rather aggrieved part that insists on its wie es eigentlich gewesen now seems the order of the day.  Filling that role then is John Demos' The Unredeemed Captive.  I'm still in the middle of it, but what I like so far is the broad view of the Puritans Demos takes: that they are but one group among many negotiating the chaos caused by European expansion and exploration in the wake of the "Renaissance" and Reformation(s).  They are neither (so far) the center of his story nor the villains.  In fact no one seems to be particularly the center or the villains.  Individual acts of brutality or humanity are recorded with perhaps a shadow of the frown of condemnation or the nod of approval, but final verdicts are left up to the reader.  Demos may suggest, but he seems to understand that his audience is mature enough to make their own decisions where necessary (where necessary  How often do we sit enthroned like God to render the last judgement on our "poor benighted ancestors"?  What would we do if we suddenly found our situations reversed and the dead were judging us!).

That's where things stand at the moment.  I'll let you know more as my thoughts coalesce.  In the meantime, remember: the Platypus speaks Truth.    

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