The Puritan Way of Death

The Puritan Way of Death : A Study in Religion, Culture and Social Change

3.75 (64 ratings by Goodreads)
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An examination of the rituals of death and attitudes toward death in Puritan New England and of their links with community purpose and self-perception provides a new perspective on death in modern Americashow more

Product details

  • Hardback | 250 pages
  • 137.16 x 210.82 x 20.32mm | 430.91g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 0195022262
  • 9780195022261

Review Text

Against a background of attitudes and practices from Western tradition and English Puritanism, the editor of the scholarly, historical compendium, Death in America (1975), now builds upon the peculiar graveyard anxieties of the early American Puritans. To the Puritan child, death is a fearfully likely possibility; to the predestined adult, denied assurance of traditional self-help redemption by good works or faith, death remains "the King of Terrors." But mankind's "style of unease" with death, Stannard notes, varies widely from culture to culture, from one era to the next. Thus, as the growing, blending, colonial-then-national society overwhelms an anachronistic Puritan world-view, fear of death is supplanted by sentimental longing for the "sweet grave," and Emerson's aunt, ever ready, rides about in her shroud. Drawing upon schoolbooks, popular verse, sermons, diaries, funerary practices, and fads in tomb sculpture, Stannard chronicles shifts in American attitudes toward death and dying, sketching in hints of the profound cultural changes they suggest. Fashionable gravestone images (amply illustrated) become emblematic of their time: the Puritan death's-head gives way to 18th-century cherubs and willows, which are replaced in turn by Victorian representations of overstuffed furniture and household pets. Stannard's concluding historical summary and apt comments on contemporary America's tetchy unease with dying - an inconvenience to the larger society, best avoided - reaffirm the notion that an examination of the Way of Death can suggest the essential spirit of a culture. And, although much of the Puritan material here is familiar, Stannard's eclectic approach brings some fresh focuses to that most inescapable subject. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

Rating details

64 ratings
3.75 out of 5 stars
5 16% (10)
4 50% (32)
3 28% (18)
2 6% (4)
1 0% (0)
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