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Anne Bradstreet is one of the most remembered American poets who lived during the ages of the 17th century. She faced many challenges and obstacles simply because she was a woman living under Puritan law. It is clear to see that she used her poetry as an outlet, to express views that bordered on feministic ideals as well as Puritan ideals. Misty Jones, in “Norms and Criticism in Anne Bradstreet’s poetry”, states, “Bradstreet’s writing depicts and respects Puritan standards but also includes discussions of ideas contrary to these standards”. I believe this to be true and will show specific events to prove my idea.
“I am obnoxious to each carping tongue who says my hand a needle better fitsâ€¦for such despite they cast on female wits; If what I do prove well, it won’t advance, they’ll say it’s stol’n, or else it was by chance.”
Here she questions why women are assumed to lack the skills of men (Jones). It’s as if she was saying she could do just as well as any man could do. This was not an acceptable viewpoint but she seemed to have a way of keeping her thoughts hidden within her poetry.
In “Upon the Burning of Our House”, she expressed her anguish about the event of her house burning down. She used this Bible translation, Job 1:21: “The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord.” She has accepted this to be God’s will yet is still heartbroken. One critic states, “Bradstreet knows what she believes as a puritan but she takes a few lines to convey her sadness and to question why God would do this to His beloved children” (Jones). In my opinion, Bradstreet seemed to question God while equally defending Him as though she was trying to convince herself that God was the ultimate authority and His will being done had a meaning and a purpose. Michael G. Ditmore in “Bliss lost, wisdom gained; contemplating emblems and enigmas in Ann Bradstreet’s “Contemplations”, called this writing “a mostly secular wisdom poem evocative of the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes and its grim view of human vanity”. Surely Bradstreet did not intend her poem to be viewed as “secular”. It appears to me that she was merely expressing random thoughts on her life in general. She had a sincere trust and faith in God that is evident in all her writings, including this one.
In “Before the Birth of One of Her Children,” she really spoke what she was feeling before she had her child. She closes with “And kiss this paper for thy loves dear sake, who with salt tears this last Farewel did take.” Puritan marriage doctrine suggests it is inappropriate for wives to apply terms as “dear” and “love” to their husbands since these terms imply equal status, rather than placing the man at the head of the family (Hilliker). Here her poem conveys not only a personal meaning but also a larger social and religious meaning. She wanted her husband to be with her and to know the concerns she was having. She was seeking understanding from her husband as well as acceptance as a woman. In “To My Dear and Loving Husband” and “A Letter to her Husband, Absent on Publick Employment”, Bradstreet keeps talking about the absence of her husband. I believe Bradstreet did view her husband as somewhat of a “head of household” but she also knew that she would be held responsible for her duties as a wife. She depended on herself mostly. Her husband was away most of the time and she was left at home to take care of all the family business along with raising her seven children. This was usual and customary for women to take care of the household while the men were away but very difficult none the less. The critic Robert Hilliker in “Engendering identity; the discourse of familial education in Anne Bradstreet and Marie de l’Incarnation” states that Bradstreet is stating that her spiritual and mental state is dependant on a proper relationship with the husband. It is my belief that Bradstreet did not base her spiritual or mental state on the presence of her husband but rather based these beliefs on what she grew up practicing. This, however, could be true in the fact that the puritan men were revered as the head of the household and Bradstreet felt she could not be a complete family unit without her husband.
“In Memory of My Dear Grandchild Elizabeth Bradstreet, Who Deceased August, 1665, Being a Year and Half Old,” Bradstreet uses many strong verbs to get her point across as to how she felt about the child being “taken”. Towards the ending of the poem though, she brings the overall message back to what would be accepted under Puritan law with this line, “Is by His hand alone that guides nature and fate” (Writes). I feel this critic is saying that Bradstreet was very hurt and angry about the loss of her grandchildren and she wanted to lash out at God but in order to stay within the Puritan guidelines, she made it seem she was in acceptance of the grandchild’s death; that it was simply the will of God. Bradstreet lost another grandchild and wrote this poem, “In Memory of My Dear Grandchild Anne Bradstreet Who Deceased June 20, 1669, Being Three Years and Seven Months Old”. She writes, “The Heavens have changed to sorrow my delight”. Writes states here that Bradstreet seems to be opening this poem by stating that God has taken something that made her happy and that with the line, “How oft with disappointment have I met”, Writes says Bradstreet is questioning God more and more with each family tragedy. I strongly agree with this critic. It is clear that Bradstreet was questioning God more and more and using her poetry as a means to express such things that were openly unacceptable.
Avery R. Fischer, ‘Bradstreet’s On My Dear Grandchild Simon Bradstreet and Before the Birth of One of Her Children” states that surveys of women’s history tend to list Anne Bradstreet as either an exemplar of 17th century Puritan piety, or as an early feminist because of her willingness to produce poetry in a society that viewed women writers as “dangerous”. It is true that Bradstreet was not rebellious enough to merit such harsh punishment as Ann Hutchinson who was banished from her community due to her expression of personal views. On the other hand, her “pious” poems often betrayed more struggle than resignation. It is as if she was enduring as inner struggle in which only she could know about.
In closing, Anne Bradstreet was a puritan woman who had a strong love for both God and family. She was deeply affected by family related deaths and subsequently the events would cause her to question both her own beliefs and the actions of a God who could take so much from her. The Puritan ideals affected her writing as well as her personal life. Anne Bradstreet will always be remembered not just an American poetry writer but to me as a woman who was in constant struggle with her religion and her feministic viewpoints.
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