A WILDERNESS SOCIETY
WHILE the Puritans employed the symbolic wilderness to interpret their experiences in New England, they were less successful in adapting their social theories to the wilderness condition. Metaphorical extension can be explained by an intellectual lag, an unwillingness or inability to discard traditional language. But social theory, to remain vital, must solve explicit problems in the world of action. The failure of Puritan social theory to function in the wilderness reflects not so much a lack of will, for this we shall see was quite evident, but rather the irrelevance of these ideas in the new environment.
Like most Puritan concepts, the social ideals transported to America reflected centuries of Old World experience. In brief, the founders of New England endeavored to erect a medieval city in the wilderness, a society in which all men could live together with a natural harmony of interests. The Puritans replaced the stone walls which surrounded the medieval town with the idea of God's Hedge, but for all practical purposes, the wilderness society was to be a static community.
This ideal commonwealth suited the interests of the colonists as long as they distrusted the wild forest about them. Thus the hazards of life in the wilderness reinforced the early commitment to a collective society. But at the same time, certain divisive forces began to appear. Besides the problem of vertical mobility, which is beyond the realm of this study, the