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The essays first concentrate on Puritan covenant theology and its gradual adaptation to changing condition in America: the decline in zeal for a "Bible commonwealth," the growth of trade and industry, and the necessity for coexisting with large masses of unchurched people. As the book progresses, the emphasis shifts from religion to the philosophy of nature to the development of an original literature, although Miller is usually analyzing simultaneously all three aspects of the American quest for self-identity. In the final essays, he shows how the forces that molded the self-conscious articulateness of the early New Englanders still operate in the work of contemporary American writers.