American History Extra Points (Review Essay Example)

Diary by Samuel Sewall

Massachusetts in early eighteenth century serves as a setting for a diary of Samuel Sewall, a judge with almost four decades of experience. The work is written in a traditional Puritan style and focuses primarily on religious, political, trade, and cultural matters of 1674-1729. Besides, the author uses his diary to express concerns about the rights of Native Americans and show his strong opposition to bringing African-Americans as slaves to the colonies.

The book is written in a form of a diary, which is fragmentary, immediate and depicts the facts that happened at the relatively same time. Primarily, the story gives an insight into the private life of a Puritan. However, fragments of daily routine, like making purchases, for instance, reflect the outlooks contemporary for the eighteenth century. In the diary, Samuel Sewall often shifts from secular issues to spiritual ones and vice versa. In fact, the author witnesses dramatic changes in ideology and culture of New England and provides records of such significant historic events like the Salem witch trials. Besides, he defends his anti-slavery position in the pamphlet “The Selling of Joseph”, which became the first Puritan anti-slaveholding tract. The latter demonstrates liberal viewpoints of Sewall and reveals inhumanity of his fellow citizens. Interestingly, Sewall tends to use biblical citations and examples in order to support his anti-slavery stand.

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Overall, the diary seems to be quite private, unrevised and does not mean to have an audience except for the author himself. From the diary fragments, it becomes clear that Samuel Sewall is strongly committed to the Puritan beliefs. Moreover, while reading the diary, I had an impression that the author is prone to see all events as the display of God’s will. Thus, some of the natural acts are seen as God’s punishment while someone’s good luck is regarded as God’s blessings. Consequently, such thoughts affect Sewall’s spirit and make him question his moral. At the same time, drastic shifts from spiritual to secular matters and the abundance of details imply that the author is too preoccupied with the material goods. In particular, the story often contains such details like nutmegs costs or dress issues. It should be noticed that the diary gives the perspective of the lifestyle of a well-known and public person, which at that time might have been different from the lifestyle of people with lower ranks.

To conclude, the Samuel Sewall’s diary provides a great insight into the culture of the eighteenth century. I find it fascinating to have an opportunity to observe historical events from a perspective of an individual who actually witnessed them. The figure of the author appears to be a role model of an ideal Puritan. Sewall’s commitment to the Puritan beliefs and tendency to perceive events through his deeply religious thinking prove the absolute power of the religion at that era. However, I understand that a diary is a personal; thus, it is likely to express the subjective opinion of the author.

The Private Journal of Sarah Kemble Knight by Sarah K. Knight

The story, created in 1704 by Sarah Kemble Knight, is based on the records of the events that took place during her round trip from Boston to New York. Written in a form of a journal, the book is regarded as an important document of colonial period as it provides an insight into New England in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.

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The author Sara Knight is the protagonist of the story as she was traveling by herself on a horse. The trip to New Haven and back, including a side journey to New York, took over five months, including lengthy visits to friends and relatives on her route. Sara Knight provides the detailed descriptions of the towns and villages, geography, and cultural peculiarities like eating habits and manners. Undoubtedly, such descriptions not only give a broader view of the urban and county lifestyles but also depict the frontier wilderness at the time. Interestingly, Sara Knight’s diary reflects the sociological issues of the time, particularly, class distinctions and hierarchies that structured colonial New England. The author speaks about Native Americans, black people, and other colonies settlers in her journal. It should be noted that the story is outlined from a perspective of Sara Knight who is a representative of the wealthy middle class in New England.

Mostly, The Private Journal of Sara Kemble Knight is an outstanding piece of literature as it demonstrates the outlook of a woman, what, in fact, was uncommon for the time. Due to the secondary position of women in society, it was challenging for females to make a statement through writing or other activity. Puritans were trying to put limitations on women on a basis of the religious story about Eva and Adam; thus, females were restricted with the preconceptions of dependence on the men and domesticity notions. However, Sarah Knight reveals in her journal that the Puritan ideas often contradicted with the actual reality as in frontier society females often had to do activities that would be traditionally referred to as men’s jobs, for example, in stationery, inn keeping, printing or writing. The author herself inherited a business from her father and effectively managed it.

The fascinating thing about the journal is that Sara Knight provides own humorous portrait, makes witty comments on the people, the lack of suitable accommodation, and the geography of early New England. Undoubtedly, such clever and sharp observations make the story grasping, entertaining, and quite involving in spite of the colloquialisms and old English words that are hard to understand. However, there is another issue in the journal that the readers may find surprising. Overall, Sarah appears to be a progressive and independently thinking woman since she manages business and travels by herself. However, her diary fragments often include rather negative remarks regarding people with skin color other than white. For example, the author refers to the Native Americans and black people as barbarians and slaves, dirty and coddled animals. Thus, Knight is a vivid supporter of the slavery.

To conclude, the journal plunged me in the atmosphere of southern New England during the early 18th century. By means of detailed descriptions and humorous comments, the author manages to make a story quite informative and grasping at the same time. However, the journal created the contradictory impression as, on one hand, it promotes a position of a strong and independent woman, and, on the other hand, reveals racial discrimination and preconceptions. Besides, comparing to the Sewall’s diary, the Knight’s journal is easier to read as it is more coherent and slightly revised for a potential audience.

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1776 by David McCullough

The book 1776 is a historical drama covering the most important year of the revolutionary war for the US independence. The author aims to revive the pivotal years in American History by describing real historical events that contributed to the establishment of the US independence and show how fragile the victory and outcomes of the crucial battles were. Especially, David McCullough focuses on the revolution leader George Washington, who later became the first President of the USA.

To begin with, the name of the book has historical significance as 1776 is an important year for Americans. In 1776, the Declaration of Independence was signed, which established the foundation of the modern USA country. Besides, David McCullough uses a quotation of George Washington, one of the main characters, to introduce the book. Apparently, he conducted an extensive scientific research to support his book with real historical facts; therefore, the storyline reflects the chronicles of the battles with the British under the leadership of George Washington. Along with the battles outlining, the author provides the detailed and realistic portraits of the key Revolution figures from both American and British sides, for example, the King George III. Additionally, David McCullogh gives the fair description of all participants of the Revolution, including Americans in all ranks and rebels, having different social and professional background.

For the most part, the book is aimed to remind how difficult it was to gain the independence of the USA. People fighting for it, namely rebels, barely had appropriate military experience and training and were dealing with the severe lack of weapons. Moreover, the discipline issues were quite common since many volunteers came from colonies. Besides, the sea was under control of British army, what was a serious obstacle to military maneuvers and planning. While depicting the battles, David McCullogh pays great attention to the actions of the Revolution leader George Washington. The exciting part of the story is that the author does not try to create a perfect picture of the General. On the contrary, he shows the moments of Washington’s self-doubt and diffidence, his indecisiveness regarding military issues and questioning own decisions, which can be explained by the fact that he never participated in military actions before. Besides, McCullogh includes the details about Washington’s early background, education, family life, hobbies and preferences, for example, architecture. Such an approach gives readers a great insight into the life of the General, what helps to understand his motivations and thoughts during the stressful process of making important decisions. Overall, David McCullogh describes the General and further the first President of the USA as a man of faith.

In conclusion, I find the book highly informative and offering a deep insight into the essential period of American history. It gives an extensive description of the early Revolution events, which contributed greatly to the establishment of the USA as an independent country. Naturally, the specific attention in the storyline is paid to the Revolution leader and further the first President of the USA George Washington, who is shown as a man of faith. I believe that the memorable realistic portrait of the General, skillfully created by David McCullogh, explains his personality and actions.

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The Crucible (Nicholas Hytner, 1996)

The events of the following screen adaptation of the Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible take place in 1692 in a traditional Puritan community in Salem. The aim of the story is to show the dangers and adverse effects that any kind of political and religious extremism may carry.

The story starts with an opening scene, which becomes a sort of starting point of the further events in the movie. It shows a group of local girls accompanied by a black servant having a ritual aimed to attract the men they liked. Vividly, for the excited young girls, the whole process is rather an entertaining game rather than an actual act of witchcraft. However, local community interprets the situation as the witchery act, what contributes to spreading the gossips about flying girls and Devil appearance in Salem. In the middle of the witchery scandal, one Salem resident Abigail Williams is trying to get her former lover John back by accusing his wife Elizabeth of Satan worship. In fact, her accusations come purely from her imagination, but since events took place in 1692, the time of the witchcraft trials and hunting, she manages to manipulate the public opinion skillfully. To investigate the situation and fight Devil controlling the Salem community, a professional witch hunter is involved. Everyone is under the threat to be accused, and the whole investigation process turns into a sequence of continuous fake accusations and counter-accusations.

Overall, the story clearly demonstrates how religious extremism can influence people and lead to negative outcomes. In Salem, local citizens, being influenced by the religious beliefs, tend to use God’s will as an excuse for any events that happen to them as well as blame Devil for any misdeeds and misfortune. Moreover, books with dubious instructions on how to recognize the specific signs of Devil possession and witchery are another sign of unjustified religious extremism. Thus, every unusual action, for example, old man forgetting the text of pray, is interpreted as a sign of Devil trying to detain the man from praying. Generally, the story reveals how people manipulate religious idea in order to get particular benefits for themselves, for example, when motivated by a desire for revenge on their neighbors. The irrationality of the situation reaches its peak when Salem citizens involve their children. Moreover, they make kids commit perjury about witnessing witchery using the Bible citation, according to which children cannot tell lies, but only the truth.

The outcome of the situation is clearly unfair as the most honest and sensible people of the community are punished. They understand people’s real motives and refuse to participate in the performance along with their fellow community members. I reckon the storyline has symbolic meaning as it shows that extremism does not tolerate people who do not want to be a part of the system. Due to the lack of credible incriminating evidence, the hearing process, based on pure accusations and contra-accusations, leaves a strong impression that the judge was not seeking actual justice but someone to be punished in order to justify his reputation.

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To conclude, I was totally fascinated and horrified at the same time by the dramatic story, demonstrating the destructive power of extremism and the ways the extremist ideas of any kind are used to manipulate public opinion. It proves eventually that extremism will never tolerate the opposition and will punish everyone questioning the imposed ideas. Undoubtedly, the adaptation is worth watching illustrates that every century has its Salem, either political, religious or of any other kind.

The Last of the Mohicans (Michael Mann, 1992)

The screen adaptation of the story is based on the James Fenimore Cooper’s novel. It takes place in 1757 during the French and Indian War in the Adirondack Mountains, on the territory of the former British colony of New York. The issue of race and overcoming racial differences is central to the story.

The development of the theme may be unclear first as the described events are shown from different perspectives. During the constant tension of armies, a British officer escorts the British colonel’s daughters Cora and Alice to a fort to join their father. The group is betrayed by their leader Magua and led to an ambush. However, two frontiersmen, who agreed to accompany the girls and the British officer, rescue them from the vanishing people called Mohicans. At this point, the story reveals the interracial relations between the characters. Firstly, the author illustrates a strong friendship between a white man Hawkeye and a Mohican Indian Chingachgook. However, at the same time, it aims to prove that interracial romance is unnatural and impossible. The affection between Uncas and one of the British General’s daughters Cora leads to a disastrous outcome. Besides, Cora turns out to have a half-black mother; thus, her interest to a man of other racea is showed as natural and anticipated. Finally, the title may symbolize the end of the Native Americans, which had been demolished by Europeans.

Furthermore, the author seems to have the prejudice about the Native Americans as he focuses on the differences between white people and the natives with “red skin.” In the story, both British and French display only positive traits like bravery, nobility, and tolerance. Even during the fall of the fort, the generals of the rival British and French armies demonstrate impeccable manners and courtesy and emphasize that following the treaty is the matter of dignity. Meanwhile, Native Americans are described as aggressive and violent warriors, unreliable and unable to follow agreements. Throughout the story, they betray the British colonel and then break the agreement with French. Besides, unlike the white British and French military leaders, the Huron leader is shown as harsh and cruel when he orders to have one of the general’s daughters burnt as revenge. Naturally, the British officer volunteers to be punished instead of a lady, what is another vivid demonstration of the nobility of a white man.

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To conclude, the elements of romance and love along with scenes of battles are incorporated skillfully in the historical drama’s storyline and make it interesting to follow. However, the story strongly emphasizes the supremacy of white people over other races by vividly demonstrating differences between the Europeans and Native Americans. Thus, such division of characters in negative and positive on a basis of race leaves evokes contradictory feelings after watching. I think the drama ideas do not correspond to the ideas of nowadays and may be seen as offensive ones by some people.

Thomas Jefferson (Ken Burns, PBS, 1997)

The documentary tells the story of Thomas Jefferson, the 3rd President of the USA, who is regarded as one of the most outstanding figures in the American history. The film aims to reveal his contradictory personality and show Thomas Jefferson from different perspectives.

First, the story focuses on the political career of Thomas Jefferson as he managed to remain a major political figure in the USA for almost 50 years. It depicts his great inputs into the history of the USA, including the authorization of the Declaration of Independence, contributing to the treaty in France and serving as a delegate to the Second Continental Congress. In fact, Thomas Jefferson was a contemporary of George Washington and served as his first Secretary of State. His engagement in politics did not stop even after retiring since he continued to work as a personal advisor to next Presidents. However, in spite of the great contributions, Thomas Jefferson remains a contradictory figure in the history. For example, he was not a religious; however, he supported the freedom of religion in the USA. Besides, while being an excellent diplomat and forward-thinking politician, he did not support abolishing slavery. Moreover, he owned a number of slaves and, according to documentary, was involved into personal conflicts with them.

On the other hand, the story illuminates other sides of Jefferson’s life. It depicts him not only as a politician but also as a scholar, diplomat, writer, inventor, and architect. In fact, Thomas Jefferson founded University of Virginia, which was the first college in the USA independent from religious casts. He was deeply interested in architecture, mechanics, and agriculture as well as acquired profound knowledge in the following fields. Moreover, his life beyond politics was also full of contradictions. The documentary illustrates him as an enthusiastic and positive man even though he experienced the loss of many beloved family members, including parents, wife, and best friend. Besides, even though Jefferson was effectively managing the whole country, he failed to manage properly own finances. Thus, he spent his last years of life trying to deal with the huge debts after declaring bankruptcy.

To conclude, the biographical film gives an insight into the personal and public life of Thomas Jefferson, one of the most outstanding political figures in the history of the USA. In particular, I was fascinated with the contradictory personality of the third President and found it gripping to see him from different perspectives. I had an impression that the movie is based on the solid research; thus, information is accurate and presented in detail. Overall, the pictures, personal accounts, and excellent, musical effects help create an interesting and educational documentary, which is definitely recommended to watch.