Thursday, January 27, 2011

Shepard & Danforth

-The excerpts from Shepard's autobiography, written for his son, reflect classic dynamics of Puritan spiritual autobiography, tracing God's providence through life's events, trying to see each event in light of the God's plan for the individual. So, they have a personal purpose of making sense of life, but they also had a public purpose of instructing others and proving one's own salvation. If you look at contemporary best seller lists, you will see that memoirs and autobiographies are still very important and popular forms in American life: what differences do you in the purpose in writing and interest in reading autobiographies between Puritan times and present?

--Danforth's sermon, given 40 years after Winthrop's, seems to be a response to the promise offered in Winthrop's vision of the Puritan community as "a city upon a hill." How is Danforth's message similar or different? What are the stylistic differences? Is there a difference in the kind of biblical evidence called upon here (not all scripture passages have the same intent or purpose).


  1. The importance of autobiography is very interesting especially in the way it is presented by Shepard. It is clear in Shepard’s work that he is reflecting on spiritual experiences throughout life. In fact, it seems the entire autobiography is written about his experiences with God. From the examples Shepard gave of his holy experiences, it seems like he is very undecided about how he feels about God and the experiences he has put him through. This is evident when he discusses the conflict between the English and the Indians and how helpful God was in that instance and then when he describes the pain he had to go through of losing his wife. Seeing as this was written specifically for his son, I think the message he may have been sending to him was that it’s ok if you are unsure of your experiences with God. Seeing as the Puritans had the constant pressure of living in a very religious society, I would image that it would have been very hard to not agree with the norm at that time. I also think that this autobiography may have allowed Shepard to simply get a lot of feelings off of his chest. Specifically when he is describing the situation with his wife, the sincerity of his writing made me think that he was writing to get a sense of closure about the situation.

    Today, I think that autobiographies hold much of the same purpose. They allow people to realize that they are not the only ones who go through difficult or trying times in life. However, where as many Puritan autobiographies are probably based only around religious experiences, today autobiographies range in topic and may not focus on only one sector of a person’s life. Also, a lot of people today have an obsession with celebrity culture and because of this I believe many celebrity autobiographies are written just to make money. During Puritan times, the recognition of writing a book was probably never the motivation behind creating an autobiography. I’m sure that this difference also plays into the depth and meaningful content that the autobiographies from the different time periods offer. To go along with that, I’m not sure that many autobiographies today are intended to be written for a certain person. It seems that they are mainly written for the public. On the other hand, Shepard’s autobiography was written specifically for his son. Although it may have become public, that was not it’s original intention and therefore it has a much more personal and vulnerable feel to it.

    --Jessica Schuster

  2. In the Puritan times, religion was everything, and not having pure, blind faith was unheard of. And now, it is almost more common to see someone without faith than with it, much less writing an autobiography about his or her faith. Autobiographies now usually do not focus on a small portion of the life of the individual, like Shepards, but rather on their entire life, which makes them long and containing a lot of unnecessary information. Also today, autobiographies are easier to come by, and more entertaining than educational.

    I felt Shepard’s autobiography had a much more personal tone than any other that I have ever read. I realize this was written for his son, but it seemed to be more of a diary type writing. However, I did like this about it, and found it very easy to read. He seems to be very honest about his faith, or at times lack of faith. His love and fellowship of God comes and goes throughout the stories he shares. Shepard appears to become frustrated with God on several different occasions; first, with the confrontation among the Indians and English, then his pure agony from losing his wife. He seems to posses a very unstable relationship with God, and trying to convey why that is the case to his son.

    Emily Miller

  3. Shepard's autobiography is interesting in a few ways: just getting the insight into Puritan life, but adding to that was the intense religious conviction that is not part of the mainstream. He gives us a little background about his life, saying he had fallen away from God, and into "loose and lewd company." When he describes his wife's death, I was taken aback almost at his acceptance of her death as God's will: "i saw that if i had profited by former afflictions of this nature, i should not have had this scourge; but i am the lord's and He may do with me what he will." Compare this to a more modern memoir narrative: we are more likely to hear about one's doubt in God, or even anger at God, after the death of a spouse. In Shepard's piece, she is mourned, but he accepts that it's what god want's. Religion was so deeply rooted in Puritan life that thinking like this must not have been uncommon.
    I also noticed in his description of her that she was "very loving" and "of great prudence." She loved God and loved participating in the community. His memories of her center on their religious lives and devotion, something that one is less likely to see in today's memoirs.

  4. I feel like the majority of autobiographies written today serve the main purpose of being entertaining. People read autobiographies because they think they will be a good, interesting read. The main purpose of an autobiography in the past was more to preserve the legacy of the author. In today’s society, you could write a book and after your fifteen minutes are up, you may fall to the wayside. In the past, an autobiography had a better chance of preserving one’s legacy. Even if it was not read by the people at the time, it could still be discovered long after the author’s death and provide an insight into life at the time it was written. I also think that another main purpose of autobiographies of both today and the past is to be inspirational. Granted, not every autobiography is inspirational, but there is something about reading about a real life person that invokes a desire to do something with your life in many people.

    The specific purpose of Shepard’s autobiography seems to be in his desire to spread his beliefs through his experiences. He writes about how he believed God was with him even when he had fallen away from the traditional religious life. He writes of God’s goodness and mercy even during his times of “lewd” behavior. Shepard also believed that the Lord was guiding the English in times of violence against the Native Americans. It is clear through his writings that Shepard believed that everything that happened in his life was done by God’s will.

    ~Shannon Durington

  5. I thought that this autobiography was an interesting one, as it is the oldest I have read. It's not too much different than today's autobiographies as it paints a picture of what the person's life was like. It is also somewhat dramatic as would be a modern autobiography. It's not simply a historical account, but there is definitely some emotion, and we are supposed to identify the writer as the hero. Just like most he hits rock bottom when he's "lusting, bowling, drinking, etc." Then he describes what sounds like his homosexual college experience when he "was carried from the place in which he drank"...and awoke the next day he "left from him in shame and confusion". This is typical of a spicy autobiography of say Paris Hilton, or perhaps Lindsey Lohan, but not of a Puritan man.
    The end is almost all about his wife and family. The part about his wife dying is sad, but I feel like if it was longer we would be able to identify with his loss a little more.
    While his purpose in writing it may be different than the purpose of today's bestsellers, the reader still reads for the same reason. Shepard is writing simply to pass on his legacy and story to his future relatives and little did he know, us. Writers today are just writing for money primarily. Then or now, the reader's intention is to learn something about the writer they did not know.

    -Max Stolte

  6. What differences do you see in the purpose in writing and interest in reading autobiographies between Puritan times and present?

    Because Shepard's autobiography was dedicated specifically to his son, I feel as though the purpose was to depict his struggles and his journey with God. Shepard uses examples such as the English vs. the Indians and personal experiences; such as the death of his wife, so that his son may learn from his 'mistakes'. I believe the idea was for his son to use this knowledge as a tool in his life, so that he may form his own views and opinions hopefully avoiding the troubles brought upon his father.
    Ultimately it seems as though Shepard felt that he was being punished for straying from Gods path early on, and though he admitted his sins God continued to punish him with the death of his loved ones.
    While Shepard's autobiography definitely has a religious overtone,the Puritans autobiographies were more like depictions of their life in testimonial form. These were accounts of their devotion and dealings with God. Unlike Shepard theirs were tales of turmoil and triumph. Shepard's tale essentially ended in turmoil.
    While the Puritans wrote autobiographies as a form of their devotion to God, presently autobiographies tend to be more formal. They're still real life stories but in today's society God and his role in ones life is not often seen in autobiographies. Presently their purpose is simply to let the reader know who the person is, where they came from, their struggles (sometimes), and how they got to where they are now.
    --Alexandra Bass

  7. what differences do you in the purpose in writing and interest in reading autobiographies between Puritan times and present?

    As was stated in the introduction to the autobiography, autobiographies were written as a way to prove to show the community, as well as oneself, that one had found salvation. They were written as reflections of the author over the events of their life, searching for the events when they had God interacted with them, and trying to find meaning within those.
    I do not believe that this actually differs that much from present day memoirs. Memoirs, as opposed to autobiographies, aim to tell stories that have some unity in theme or message, albeit not an altogether obvious one. With the Puritan autobiographies, they were taking particular stories within their lives and hoping to find proof of salvation; they thought that by looking at a the stories as interconnected, some greater meaning could be found within them. This is similar to the goal of memoirists, whose stories (while they should be interesting on their own) also have a larger meaning that they are trying to wrestle with.

    In comparison to present day autobiographies, I think you have to take them on a case-by-case basis. As many others have commented, there are celebrities who write autobiographies (or have them written for them, but still have them called AUTObiographies, somehow) merely to take advantage of their fame and the public's interest in them. However, I think it is unfair to put all autobiographies under this brand. From the autobiographies of Malcolm X, to the graphic novel Persepolis (which works as an autobiography), I think that there autobiographies being written for genuine purposes today just as they were in the past. People want to make sense of their lives and also see how the public reacts to ones life, and there isn't any better way to do that than to write ones life down and have it published.