I hope you have joined us as we have been thinking about William Bradford’s classic History of Plymouth Plantation, an appropriate read for November. If you are just now clicking in for the first time, take a moment and scroll down through the last several postings just to get a context for this post.
Ok, let’s de-center this text a bit. Look off to the sides. Let’s start asking questions William Bradford never intended us to ask.
The History is a narrative about the “dogged struggle [as I said in my last post] of civilization and piety against the savage continent and powers of darkness.” Well, terrific, but who determined that Bradford’s people were forces for civilization and piety while the entire North American continent itself was “savage” and was under the “powers of darkness”? The traditional flip answer has always been “God, that’s who.” This new venture of colonization in New England was going to be a conflict between God’s chosen people and unredeemed Satanic forces.
Maybe–maybe. And I hope you stay with me in this blog over the next several weeks as we tackle these questions. But think for a moment. Who were the peoples who were savage and part of the powers of darkness? The answer is obvious. But think of the major historic implications of this attitude that the Pilgrims possess even before they encounter any inhabitants, before they even explore any wilderness.
How did this perception by the white people affect their attitudes toward and treatment of the “savages”? And what happened throughout the history of the next several centuries as a result of deeply instilled belief toward the non-white residents of the original Plymouth Colony? If you are God’s chosen people and you are carrying light into the dark and evil wilderness, inhabited by savages who are creatures of evil, what action does God expect of you towards the wilderness and its inhabitants? These are very disturbing questions and ones that Bradford assumes his readers will never ask.
More disturbingly, think about this question. If we the readers identify with the Pilgrims, what does that say about us? We are supposed to identify with them. These were our forefathers and mothers. We are like them and they were like us. Well, maybe. They are the founding Americans. But can we identify with these Pilgrims and yet still sympathize with what we then must call the “savages”? What would that say about us? Do you believe there are savages in the world? People who merely because of their geographical origins are unredeemable, are unregenerate?
So here from the beginning we see these things: These are God’s chosen people (so they claimed) entering a promised land that is in the hands of Satanic forces. It is up to them to redeem the land and consecrate it for God’s people (who these people assume to be themselves). The natives of the land are children of Satan, unredeemed, unregenerate, who must be either saved or what? Or exterminated. Right?
“Uh, yeah, but but but—that can’t be right. That’s not the way I always heard the Pilgrim story.” Ok, but try reading this old history and others like it knowing what we as Postmoderns know today.
Write your comments in the comment box. And let’s see your comments no matter when you read this blog. None of the ideas I am approaching are time sensitive.
Let’s start a conversation. Re-blog. Re-tweet. Follow The Literary Life. The more readers who are posting comments the better.
One last note. The images I am posting of the Pilgrims and Thanksgiving are cultural and mythical depictions that reinforce traditional history narratives.