Of Plymouth Plantation, 1620-1647 Book 2, Chapters 23-26 Analysis
Given that neither Plymouth’s story nor Bradford’s story was complete at the time Bradford was composing his account, it is not unexpected that Of Plymouth Plantation seems to end rather abruptly. Although numerous narrative threads– the dispute with the Narragansett, the disagreement with the English financiers, and so on– have actually been solved, others are still up in the air. Winslow’s inability to return to the colony is a particularly dramatic example.
With that stated, what makes these last few chapters disconcerting is not simply their incompleteness but also the rapid shifts in tone. Chapter 23, for example, begins with a reflective and individual appearance back at one of the creators of Plymouth before launching into a conversation of the political situation in New England after the end of the war with the Pequot. The brewing dispute in between the Narragansett and the Monhigg, as well as their colonial allies, then occupies the remainder of the chapter, in addition to the majority of Chapters 24 and 25.
In a sense, however, these changes in tone and topic mirror the tensions present throughout Bradford’s account of Plymouth– in specific, the spiritual motives that influence the Pilgrims to come to Plymouth in the very first place, versus the financial and political entanglements that become more important after they have actually settled there. As he recalls over Brewster’s life, Bradford ends up being wistful, drawing repetitive attention to Brewster’s devoutness even in the midst of hardship and physical hardship: “I would ask, was he the worse for any of his former sufferings?
What do I say? Worse? Nay; he was certainly the better, in the meantime they were added to his honour” (206 ). Bradford’s tone here borders on nostalgia, recommending that he possibly sees the passage of those “sufferings” with some remorse, since of the opportunities they attended to spiritual development. By contrast, the challenges Plymouth now deals with tend to draw them even more and further into negotiations with the outside world– specifically, the surrounding colonies and tribes.
From a modern-day viewpoint, their interactions with the Narragansett and Monhigg makes this evolution much more questionable because the Pilgrims and their fellow colonists now wield sufficient power to dictate how the tribes dispose of their own area. Although Bradford illustrates the Narragansett (and earlier the Pequot), as the aggressors in the disputes that arise in between Native American people and European settlers, the extent of the Pilgrims’ involvement in tribal matters is a clear departure from their original objectives in settling the region; they are now participating in an early form of imperialism.
In light of all this, Bradford’s decision to open Chapter 26 with the anecdote about Thomas Cromwell is substantial. As he informs it, the story is another example of God’s providence: Cromwell passes away in a manner that corresponds to his “sins” (3 ). This is plainly not a new idea by this point, but it is a reassertion of the religious beliefs that gave the Pilgrims faith in the righteousness of their voyage to begin with. Integrated with the list of passengers from the Mayflower, the final chapter marks a return to these starting values.