The perception of death has varied across different periods, including the Puritan era, American Enlightenment era, and the Gothic era. The three authors to be used in the explication of the perception of death in this essay include Anne Bradstreet to represent the Puritan era, Benjamin Franklin to represent the American Enlightenment era, and Edgar Allan Poe to represent the Gothic era. It is vital to compare their perceptions of death to understand the significant variations that have been witnessed over the years on the subject of death. It is worth noting that Gothic writers, such as Poe, tended to hold supernatural perspectives on the subject of death, while Puritan writers, such as Bradstreet, related it to common factors such as sickness. This is reflected in most of her poems. This essay compares the treatment of the subject of death by Anne Bradstreet, Benjamin Franklin, and Edgar Allan Poe, hence reflecting the variation of the subject across the Puritan, American Enlightenment, and the Gothic periods.
Death has been perceived different during the Puritan period, comparing to the Enlightenment era, and to the Gothic era, as reflected in the works of different authors in those periods (Phillips 22). In the Puritan poetry, death has been talked about as something like arising from diseases and it has the capacity of coming at any given time. Anne Bradstreet was the key figure in highlighting the connectivity between sickness and death. In her poems, Bradstreet pointed out that life is short and could end at any time because of death (Stobaugh 55). She insisted that the human body could be subjected to different infections, discomfort, and distress that leads to death of people. Death was also presented as an uncomfortable happening that separates a person from his/her family, but gives one more joyous life in heaven. For instance, she stated that “So happy may you live and die” (Bradstreet line 54). This statement implies that, as much as death is likely to separate a person from his/her family, it goes ahead to give them a better life that is full of happiness, just as life on Earth is. As seen from Bradstreet’s statement, death is perceived as a transition from the world to heaven, where God gives people a better life.
Additionally, the perception of death in the Enlightenment period in America varied significantly from the ideas held in the Puritan era. Key writers, such as Benjamin Franklin, played an instrumental role in the presentation of these ideas. Franklin was mostly associated with the deist beliefs that seemed to oppose a continuous reliance on God (Ingram 96). However, his perception of death was clearly brought out in the publication of three pamphlets in the defense of Hemphill. In his defense, he perceived death as a penalty for those who had sinned against God. This goes beyond the beliefs that had been previously held by Bradstreet in the Puritan era, where diseases were seen as the key causes of death among people. According to Franklin, human beings are supposed to operate in line with the desires of God, and those who go against His beliefs are punished in the form of death. Death gave individuals the direction on what to hope for and what to fear. For instance, Franklin noted that Christ had died on the cross to pay a penalty for the sins of men in the world. He states that “Till their death, their estates, like the carcass of the negros gentleman-hog, come to be cut up” (Franklin 71). This means that death is a massive form of punishment for the sins committed against others and God. The overall perception is that those who sin are always alienated from God and punished by death.
The presentation of death in Puritan poetry and the Enlightenment era writings varies from the perceptions held in the Gothic era. Gothic literature is believed to have been more obsessed with the topic of death. Edgar Allan Poe was one of the main authors who gave presentations about death and explained how individuals should take it. Poe’s perceptions of death vary from what Puritan poets, such as Bradstreet, had stated. This is especially because Poe viewed death as an unnatural event that leads to horror among human beings. In essence, Gothic authors, such as Poe, view death as an event associated with the supernatural world, highlighting subjects such as vampires and the return of death (Phillips 23). Poe also noted that death is a horrific event because it is never the end of somebody. In his Ligeia, Poe noted that death is not the end of somebody, as it only tends to thwart the individual’s wish for certainty. Dead individuals are always bound to return, especially in the instances where they have been victims of repression (Hawthorne 37). They return in the form of vampires who kill and drink the blood of those who might have repressed them. Therefore, there is always fear and respect for the dead because of the belief that they could return to haunt the living people in cases where they are not treated in the required manner. Apart from the overall topic of death, Poe’s perception of death involves obsession with the bodies of dead women. Poe affirmed that “The death of a beautiful woman is the most poetical topic in the world” (Poe 58). This means that death is a sort of a transformative aspect that changes everything about individuals, and it could be a more aesthetic subject in cases where it involves beautiful women. Therefore, there is a massive variation in the perception of death between Puritan poets and Gothic authors, as it is seen from Poe’s ideas above.
These authors have some elements that speak to the current concerns and those that do not necessarily do that. For instance, Bradstreet speaks to the current concerns when she speaks about the connectivity between an illness and death. In the contemporary world, there have been instances of untreatable diseases that have led to premature deaths among individuals. Common instances of diseases that have contributed to many deaths include Ebola, that is widely dreaded around the entire globe. Again, Bradstreet addresses the current concern when she states that death is usually perceived as a union between an individual and God (Bradstreet). This is the common perception where individuals understand that the dead would rest peacefully with God in heaven. Poe tends to only address one current concern relating to the return of the dead. In most conservative traditions around the world, it is still believed that the dead would return if they are not given adequate respect. This is mostly the concern among the societies that believe in the significance of handling dead bodies in the required manner. On the other hand, Franklin addresses the current concern surrounding the relationship between human beings and God. It is a popular belief among Christians that Jesus died on the cross to pay for their sins (Ingram 99). Again, death is usually viewed as a punishment in some quarters, especially where the person has sinned beyond the required limits. This explains why Franklin had to drop some of his deist beliefs at some point and talk objectively about God and His relationship to humans through death.
The most popular current author who deals with similar issues is Charles Finch, who has written A Beautiful Blue Death. He also brings out the relevant ideas that were brought out by Bradstreet, Poe, and Franklin. The only difference is that Finch takes a more contemporary approach to the topic of death, highlighting the manner in which individuals fear death, the roles of individuals in planning the burials, and the overall remembrance of the dead (Phillips 45). It is vital to understand that the perception of death expressed by Finch tends to take a similar approach to the initial perceptions. There is a common understanding that people fear death, but they also perceive it as a beautiful unification with God Who lives in heaven. He also perceives death as a beautiful thing because it is not the end of life, but the beautiful happening that is the unifying factor between the person and God.
In conclusion, the writings of Bradstreet, Poe, and Franklin help in the understanding of the varying perceptions of death from the Puritan era, the Gothic era, and the Enlightenment era. The Puritan era held the common belief that death was an unfortunate occurrence brought about by illnesses that weaken the human body. However, there is always hope of living a joyous life in heaven. This differs from Poe’s Gothic presentation that death is caused by unnatural happenings involving supernatural happenings. Individuals fear death and the dead because of their potential of returning and haunting the living. Lastly, Franklin presented a different perspective from both Poe and Bradstreet when he stated that death is a penalty for the sins of people. The penalty for human sins was paid by Jesus when he died on the cross. The topic of death remains open to discussion among authors because of the continuous buildup of new ideas.