Some readers of Bradstreet's poems have said that she is a pre-feminist, in that she gives women and womens experience particular prominence in her work. How would you construct a feminist reading of these works? What are the issues that are involved in such a reading? How are her works different from those of Phyllis Wheatley?
Anne Bradstreet is one of Americas most prolific writers in her day and age where women were denied all forms of education and restricted only to cooking, knitting and doing simple house chores. Though her work was not meant for publication and seems to be like a different form of poetry, its realistic in that it brings the actual themes that writers normally want to bring forth. So these are some of the themes that Ann Bradstreet works bring forth.
Motherhood. This is one of the main themes that is seen throughout her works. In the 17th century, according to the gender conventions that were set, the work of a woman was seen as having children and raising them up. She had 8 children with her husband. Some of her poems she praised the strength of her maternal love for the children. In her poems she describes the way her offspring rejuvenate her love for her husband. The fact that they were of good health was always a constant reminder of the love of God in her life. Therefore Anne, brings forth the theme of motherhood in most of her works.
Feminism. Bradstreet being a religious lady had this notion that every gender has its own role in each and every society. Though its like she advocates for equality for both genders she seem to dislike the stereotype that women should be the ones to do the knitting jobs and cooking, she wants to see a society where women and can be allowed to do things like poetry. She praises women like Queen Elizabeth 1 for her contribution to the leadership role and sees that she breaks the monotony stereotype that leadership is meant for only men. She believed that women deserved to be educated for the sake of the society but without endearing the normal system.
Religion. Bradstreet is one great poet who in her poems always evoked existence of God throughout her life. She brings out her faith in God and also her desire for eternal life though her work. Her life, including her marriage is made up of the strict moral and religious rules where she was supposed to be a loving and respectful wife and at large mother of the family. She brings out the concept of Gods awesome grace together with His Might in her work by the way she turns to God when faced by tragedies and difficult situations. She acknowledges that its Gods will for her to suffer and that God has a plan for her as an individual. She sees that the joy she will obtain from eternal life and doesnt want to compare it with the earthly life. She sees that Heaven is greater than earth and looks forward to that life. This is why her work survives many years even after her death
Mortality. In her works, Bradstreet, seems to conjure the reality of life and the how unpredictable death was, that it could come up at any time, without warning and at any age. She continues to talk about her own death and the impact it will have on her children and husband. Because of her won medical problems she sees death nigh. In some way she seems to fear it because she doesnt want to live her family, however the thought of an afterlife makes her welcome the idea of death so that she can experience the good life that will be in Heaven. In one of her poems she wants her children to think of her in a friendly manner and honor her memories after she lives them. "If any worth or virtue were in me, Let that live freshly in thy memory." That she says in Before the birth of her children. This is a clear indication that she knew that she was not going to live forever but acknowledge that death was unavoidable, the ultimate defeat of mankind.
Love. This is one of the great themes that runs throughout most of her poems. The love for her husband is seen in more than two of her poems. She continues to write on how much she misses him when he is gone mostly on business trips. Marriage according to the puritan society was something blessed by God, and therefore both husbands and wives ought to love each partner to the fullest. Her poems show the love that she had for his husband. She goes further to refer to her and her husband as one, united. This just shows the level of love that she had for him. Also in her poems she goes further to declare her profound love for her children and how she will miss them once she is gone. Her love for her children is evident in her. She goes further also to describe the love of God. According to her, its Gods great grace that drives her though the life that she had. Therefore love is one of the messages that Anne Bradstreet wants her audience to hear and learn.
As from most of her works she is seen generally not as a feminist but as pre feminist. She is seen to defend tries to portray the difficulties that women go through in their times, the 17th century. Although she doesnt complain, she raises a genuine concern for the women of her time. She sees them being restricted only to doing manual work only. In one of her poems she is seen to portray that women too can be of help if educated and the stereotype of being inferior to men being not helpful. She lauds her excellence Queen Elizabeth 1 for her courage and her leadership role that is always flooded by mean. In one of her poems The prologue she seems to be angry not because she was a woman but due to the fact that the society mistreated women in her opinion. The inferiority complex that was there didnt make sense to her. I am obnoxious to each carping tongue who says my hand a needle better fits.
The fact that she was a writer and a thinker during the puritan age that was characterized by strict religious and cultural rules makes her one of the greatest American feminists. She was educated by her father and this in fact brings out the feminist qualities in her as the women in her age and time were not allowed to embrace the scholarly lifestyle of being well educated. Even members of the clergy at that time criticized her together with other female writers of that time because of her writing and also because of her thinking and criticizing the constrictions placed on the feminine gender by the society. Therefore her pre feminism.
In her poem The Prologue, Anne is discrediting mens attitudes towards women as it is seen during those times that men would see if a woman as lucky, or say they cheated and discredit their work when they did something that was worth being appreciated by the society. For such despite they cast on female wits: If what I do prove well, it won't advance, theyll say its stol'n, or else it was by chance read her poem. In return she praises Queen Elizabeth for her Great achievements and is seen to adore her by her kind words. She says how much he queen is wise and full of wisdom and how she has achieved more than any other person in the planet. She continues to exalt her saying how much the people of England love her. This seems to be a form of rebellion from the normal stereotypes that are well driven from one generation to another about the incompetences of women. This therefore is one of the characteristics of women feminists. In view of all this Bradstreet has to be viewed in my opinion as one who had feministic sensibilities b how she wrote on what she believed in.
When comparing her work with Phyllis Wheatley, they seem to not share a lot in common. Although Phyllis lived after Anne, both of them live in a time when women are experiencing inferiority complex. During Phyllis time the society was more advanced and it was a better environment to express oneself as compared to Annes time as a woman. Women in Phyllis time were more free so to say therefore Phyllis having the opportunity to write a poem for an audience therefore being more sophisticated as compared to Anne in her. For Anne her work was more of a personal and private. At first it was never meant to be published but seemed more of emotional reflections.
One central theme that is seen in both of them is that they acknowledge the supernatural existence of God and how He influences their personal lives. Brad one time thanks God when she loses everything that she owned when their house burns down. She sees that these is Gods plan and she thanks God for it. While Wheatley on the other hand thanks God for allowing her to reach America. This is a great deal for her. Therefore in Similarity both are Spiritual in their lives.
In bringing their contrast we see that Brad was a white Woman and was an early sealer in American unlike Phyllis who was an African Woman who later in her life moved to America. Though both of them have education, Brads education is more of informal. Her father taught her everything she knew in terms of education. Phyllis on the other hand has undergone formal education and thats why most of her work is full of allusions. She mentions things that are outside the scope of literature and even goes forth to mention the bible and mythology. In my perspective her poems are fuller of imagery. She writes a subject that is more sensible to her circumstances as a black woman so to say.
Also to add on Brad was the type of poet who wrote normally on controversial topics. She writes on the love they had with the husband something that wasnt socially acceptable in their society. On the other hand Wheatley writes on socially acceptable topics during her time. She write on religion, leaders etc. only a few time did she go ahead and write controversial topics. She seems more careful on what she writes as compared to Bradstreet. Just to mention, their circumstances may be the main reason why they wrote their poems.
In conclusion, we see Bradstreet as a game changer in her century by the way she handles many of her obstacles that come her way.
BIBLIOGRAPHY Campbell, Helen. Anne Bradstreet and Her Time. Boston: Lothrop, 1891.
Eberwein, Jane Donahue. "The 'Unrefined Ore' of Anne Bradstreet's Quaternions." Early American Literature 9. 1974. 19-24.
Hildebrand, Anne. Anne Bradstreet's Quaternions and 'Contemplations'. 1973.
Laughlin, Rosemary M. Anne Bradstreet: Poet in Search of Form. 1970.
Martin, Wendy. Anne Bradstreet's Poetry: a Study in Subversive Piety. Ed. Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar. Indiana University Press, 1979.
Perkins, George and Barbara. American Tradition in Literature. 12th. Mc-graw-Hill, 2009.
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