Hope Leslie

Religious Tolerance

Characterizing Catharine Maria Sedgwick's Hope Leslie as a romantic novel is accurate as far as it goes, but it reflects the author's views of the role of religion in the New England of two hundred years before as intolerant and constricting. In the beginning of the novel, in England, the character William Fletcher is forbidden to marry his distant cousin Alice, because he was a Puritan. In England at the time, Anglicans loathed Puritans, and vice versa. (This discord culminated in the Puritan revolution in England, with Oliver Cromwell in power and his armies destroying as idolatrous much religious art in Anglican churches.) After William is forbidden to marry the love of his life, he chooses to move to the Massachusetts Bay Colony, where at first the Church of England was tolerated but was eventually forbidden by the Puritans. The Puritans became as intolerant of theological disagreement as the Anglicans had been in England. Catherine Sedgwick writes from the perspective of her Unitarianism, one of the forms into which Puritanism evolved, and that Massachusetts adopted as a state religion. She seems respectful of the aspect of the Indians' religion that sees divinity in the natural world, but nevertheless does not give it equal weight with Christianity.

Sources: American History Through Literature, ©2006 Gale Cengage

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