As per tradition, the annual Thanksgiving rereading of Sarah Vowell's The Wordy Shipmates has been completed.
It struck me this time around about how... well, of the Bush-era it was. Vowell spends a lot of time comparing and contrasting the Puritans and their influence with Abu Ghraib and 9/11, with how America thinks of itself ("city on a hill," spreading freedom and democracy) with how it often acts/is seen (drone strikes, hypocritical bully), and about the Iraq invasion and the European invasion of Native America. In this now second Obama term, with the Iraq War over, it feels... not irrelevant, because despite many of the good things he's done, civil liberties and anti-terrorism policy are not, depending on one's point of view, Obama's most inspiring areas, but of a different era? Not that four years is such a long time, but her concerns seem very different than today's, when the economy and social issues like women's rights and gay marriage seem, and maybe this is just to me, to loom larger on the public consciousness. The tone of those parts of the book simply no longer seem "in-sync" with the times.
In my previous rereads, I recognized the anxiety and bookishness of the Puritans as things I can identify with, but this year I somehow for the first time actually thought about what it would have been like being a Puritan. Would I have been like the woman Winthrop references who threw her own child down a well in order to confirm to herself her damnation rather than live with the anxiety of not knowing if she was saved or not? Or would I be a stern and uncompromising patriarch, convinced of my own righteousness? What psychic and spiritual torture would I endure about my sexuality? None of those options are particularly appealing.
Quite honestly, I just don't think I'd have been tough enough to be a New England Puritan. I would probably have stroked myself into an early grave under the weight of anxiety and self-hatred. And even their purely physical lives were hard. They were tough people, carving out, literally, lives on the edge of their world. The cold, the hunger, the Indian attacks, and the quotidian difficulty of pre-Industrial Revolution life would not have suited me. I'm very much not a frontiersperson. I'd have hung back in England with its comfy pubs (and filth and Civil War and meddling bishops).
So with that revelation, I bid adieu to John Winthrop, Roger Williams, Anne Hutchinson, and all the gang for another year! Happy Thanksgiving, all! !