The Puritan Dilemma



Most would argue that to do right in a world that does wrong is an impossible task, yet in the book The Puritan Dilemma, by Edmund S. Morgan, the main character, John Winthrop attempts the impossible. The story is about Winthrop’s life, as he tries to achieve this goal, and all of the help, as well as obstacles that he met along the way. Born on a manor in Suffolk, England, Winthrop is a wealthy, righteous man who soon decides to become a Puritan. Being an excellent member of the government, he is persuaded to leave “corrupted” England for the New World, where he encounters many problems, keeping him from molding a perfect society, the most powerful of which, separatism. That creating a perfect society in an imperfect world is impossible, Winthrop soon learns. The churches are the first to show this to Winthrop. As long as people do wrong, the people who haven’t will have a human urge to separate themselves from the wrongdoers. Winthrop manages to settle this problem, but immediately encounters another. Roger Williams, an avowed separatist, takes every opportunity available to try to earn followers in denouncing the English Church. He is finally exiled, but not before taking twenty of the colony into his way of thinking. A final challenge for Winthrop, though not for humankind, was Anne Hutchinson. Hutchinson, too, was in a way separatist, but she was much more discrete about it. When she was accused of wrongdoing, she used this discreteness, along with her wits to acquit herself all but one time when she was so caught up in the moment at a public trial that she said she had seen God in a vision. Hutchinson instantly lost all followers, and, thus, she was no longer a threat. In this amazing tale of yet another battle between righteousness and evil, one can only commend Winthrop in all he did and all for which he stood.


9/99