Mainpoints on a Little Commonwealth by John Demos

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Demos’ view of Puritan Life through A Little Commonwealth
A Little Commonwealth by John Demos, can be best described as an essay turned novel, which explains domestic puritan life. Demos’ original workings were drawn up as a graduate seminar paper in 1963. His idea was to display the demography of Plymouth families. In the book, he decided to split up each category into chapters. First, he would define the physical setting involving housing, furnishings, and clothing. Part two described the structure of the household. This section included membership, husbands and wives, parents and children, masters and servants, and wider kin connections. Last, in part three, Demos outlined themes of individual development such as infancy and childhood, coming of age, and the later years. Demos’s goal in his work was to branch out from customary historical literature. Instead of relying on quantitative history, he depended on psychohistory, using psychology to describe Puritan life during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. How did he accomplish this? Demos’ guide for, A Little Commonwealth, was constructed from psychoanalyst Erik Erikson’s “eight stages of man”. Demos compared his workings to another historian by the name of Edmund Morgan and his monograph, The Puritan Family. Morgan used literary materials such as sermons and essays. Along with those materials, Demos uses -wills, inventories, physical artifacts, and court records. Demos argues that in order to grasp the big picture of Puritan life in the 1600-1700’s, branches of behavioral sciences (anthropology, sociology, and psychology) should not be ignored. John Demos’ purpose of A Little Commonwealth is to introduce historians the use of theory, and to deliberate what likely happened, when firm knowledge is absent.

Erik Erikson created the eight stages of man. John Demos overall model of individual development was based on Erikson’s mechanisms. The first stage is infancy, birth to eighteen months. This time of any individual, as says Erikson and as Demos puts it, is the most crucial period of age. John Demos wrote, the first year or so a baby had a relatively comfortable and tranquil time. One source that Demos used was noteworthy. It was from the writings of John Robinson. Demos’ translation of Robinson’s work can be summed up in psychological terms as “blanket indictment”. It’s a way of discipline, and gives the child confidence for the future. To summarize, the parents did not fall into the child’s “stubbornness”. To me, it sounds like they are treating the baby as an adult, which in my opinion, prevents the underdevelopment of infants.

Demos’s desire to use behavioral sciences in A Little Commonwealth can be evaluated. His purpose was to give readers a psychological look at Puritan life, especially at the very early ages. This leads to Erikson’s second stage of man is early childhood, eighteen months to three years of age. Motor development-walking, talking, eating; these are all critical skills learned during this period. Demos writes, between ages one and two years, was the second stage in Erikson’s theory. The general theme is “autonomy”. Autonomy is the independence or freedom, as of the will or one’s actions. There are positives and negatives of autonomy. The positive Erikson writes, “becomes decisive for the ratio between love and hate, for that between freedom of self-expression and its suppression.” In other words, children learn to appreciate anything they desire in their own self-interests. In philosophy, obtaining the needs of one’s self-interests is actually a form of Psychological Egoism. Shame and doubt are the negatives about autonomy. Children during this time needed encouragement and support from their parents when they failed at something. Acknowledging them for any work they do, whether it is successful or not. Certain points of Puritan life during the next stage of development were particularly interesting. Between ages three and five (Demos...
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