Wigglesworth and Ethics

Throughout Michael Wigglesworth’s diary entries, his unfaltering devotion to Puritanism becomes apparent, primarily through his  feelings of overwhelming guilt. The opening line of “Ah Lord, I am vile. I desire to abhor myself” truly sets the tone and reveals the central theme of Wigglesworth’s writings (320). While he views his “carnal lusts” and “filthy dreams” as heinous sins that should send him straight to hell, the fact that he feels so much genuine shame about things that are inherent to human nature shows the impossibly high standards the Puritans held themselves to (RA 241).

In Smith and Watson’s Reading Autobiography tool kit, the topic of ethics relates to the fundamental themes of Wigglesworth’s writings. His personal writings could have been “hurtful or embarrassing to living people” and would have certainly damaged his reputation (RA 241). Constantly harboring immense guilt is a tough burden to bear, and  writing about it  may have helped him feel that he was clearing his mind and his conscience.

Wigglesworth’s self-revelation stems almost solely from the cultural conventions of his Puritan lifestyle. He is trained to feel self-loathing whenever he becomes absorbed in anything dealing with pleasure, revealed when he writes, “I was much carryd away with too much frothiness and love to vanity on Thursday and Friday having cheerful company in the house” (320). He is constantly analyzing himself and attempting to keep himself in-check; happiness and pleasure are not feelings he is able to embrace.

Wigglesworth’s writings come down to honest confessions of things that all people undoubtedly struggle with. He writes about the guilt he feels for valuing the opinions of people more than the opinion of God when he says, “I still find abundance of pride, and more thoughts regarding what man thinks of me than what gods thoughts are of me” (319). According to the Puritan code of ethics, thinking about family and friends before God was simply not accepted; God should always be first priority. Ultimately, Wigglesworth proves great courage by admitting to flaws that he undeniably shared with the majority (if not all) of his peers.

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