Just How Important Was Anne Bradstreet?

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The Puritans, in many groups of thousands, migrated to the Northern English colonies for the ideal of religious freedom in the 17th century. A group intensely devoted to the superlative Christian community and the notion of “self-subordination to God.” (Blackstock 222) Men were held in high prominence with suppression solely to the Divine while women were subjugated to the prevention of self-assertion outside of to men: especially within the realm of writing and any form of outward intellect. However, in light of this cohesive community and culture, Anne Bradstreet seems to have created a female identity deconstructive of the ‘self’. This was stimulatingly achieved through a process of subconsciously splitting her identity through the conduit of poetry: a dedicated Puritan, a loving mother, a devoted wife, a published writer, and an advocate for feminine value. Bradstreet’s continued internal struggle with this multi-split could be argued to have laid the foundation for the respected roles each of the female authors, we have studied in class, have taken upon in their writing. In totality, Bradstreet has founded that the female experience can be vastly suitable for the craft of literature: revolutionizing the recognition of female aestheticism.

“Women who stepped beyond their domestic confines through literature- by reading or writing –were considered dangerous to themselves and society…Puritans expressed considerable scorn for women who wrote or published.” (Blackstock 223) Bradstreet, as an intelligent woman stemming from a family of aristocracy in the UK, knew of this pre-deterministic understanding that was withheld within her society. And because of this, her first publication was essentially against her will. In “Prologue”, Bradstreet blatantly uses this knowledge to enforce a self-effacement, as a means of consciously recognizing the criticism female writers would endure. However, simultaneously Bradstreet understands the limits of the female experience as well: “To sing of Wars, of Captains, and of Kings, Of Cities founded, Common-wealths begun, For my mean Pen are too superior things.” (Prologue, Bradstreet) By noting the importance of events outside of her domain as a female, she cleverly deceives the possibility of men’s criticism: a literary tool she uses throughout the poem. Bradstreet continues to support the place of women in literature, but also continues to confine this far-fetched fact with lines for men superiority: “Men can do best, and Women know it well. Preeminence in all and each is yours; Yet grant some small acknowledgement of ours.” (Prologue Bradstreet) Literally, Bradstreet asks that men only just acknowledge that females have a place instead of being threatened. However, with use of a sarcastic irony, she proceeds to also exhibit the prejudicial workings of men within her century. This was accomplished through her educated style and viable knowledge of Greek history seeded throughout the poem. This seems to have also been used as a tool for lessening her future criticism.

As Bradstreet displays herself to be an advocate for feminine value, Judith Sargent Murray also argues that the minds of females and males are the same. That it is by culture and not nature that prohibits the potential of a female’s “imagination, reason, memory and judgment.” (Murray 1012) At the beginning of her essay, after her poem, she immediately begins to contemplate upon the reasoning according to the 18th century notion of men supremacy. She skillfully addresses the logic of commonality, to propose her question: “Is it upon mature consideration we adopt the idea, that nature is thus partial in her distributions? Is it indeed a fact, that she hath yielded to one half of the human species so unquestionable a mental superiority?” (Murray 1012) She cannot fathom that nature would have divulged that half the population would be considered of higher intellect. Bradstreet also addresses nature in “Prologue”, but in a different fashion. “And this to mend, alas, no Art is able, ’Cause Nature made it so irreparable.” (Prologue, Bradstreet) As the Bradstreet address her lowly muses in irony, she also promotes the equality of intellect that Murray demonstrates. Written in the 18th century, much ostracism of feminine value remained considerably at large. This female author represents the ‘self’ of Bradstreet that noticeably and outwardly advocates for the value of femininity and the equality of intellect that both genders have the potential to acquire, regardless of nature.

Much of Bradstreet’s poetry confides within the sense of marital and family love, but within the Puritan community that even limited “her role as wife and mother.” (Blackstock 239) It was through her poetry that she could pronounce the legitimate representation of her lively feelings. These feelings, however, spoke of both a very selfless and selfish love. This in itself was also a constant inner struggle that Bradstreet seemed to have dealt with while relaying much of her motivation upon the afterlife. In “In Reference to her Children, 23 June 1659”, Bradstreet adopts a quaint bird analogy about her eight children to express her concerns as they start to grow up. “They fall un’wares in Fowler’s snare; Or whilst on trees they sit and sing Some untoward boy at them do fling, Or whilst allur’d with bell and glass The net be spread and caught, alas; Or lest by Lime-twigs they be foil’d; Or by some greedy hawks be spoil’d.” (In Reference to her Children, 23 June 1659, Bradstreet) Throughout the poem, Bradstreet never lets up on the bird analogy, while representing an overly cautious mother. A mother who constantly worries, especially about the three children still in her care, while regretfully knowing they have to soon give “flight”. She worries about the externalities that might hurt her little birds: “or by some greedy hawks be spoil’d.” However, because of these continuous worries, it seems as though Bradstreet is completely confident in the care and teachings she provided all her children. She shares her lively feelings about her children, portraying a great relentless love: “Great was my pain when I you bred, Great was my care when I you fed. Long did I keep you soft and warm And with my wings kept off all harm. My cares are more, and fears, than ever, My throbs such now as ‘fore were never.” (In Reference to her Children, 23 June 1659, Bradstreet) Within her antiquated analogy, she speaks of a complete selflessness towards her children, recognizing her experience of pain and her continuous worrying. “Farewell, my birds, farewell, adieu, I happy am, if well with you.”(In Reference to her Children, 23 June 1659, Bradstreet) The last lines of the poem wholly categorize the implementation of the ‘no self’. ‘I am happy, if you are good.’

This analysis provides a quite intriguing view into how Bradstreet implements the quality of power within the domestic sphere by forgetting her self by constant depiction of her consciousness to be on her children: most likely implementing the Puritan teachings and beliefs into them. But there is a strong sense of disillusioning herself from the actual dogma of the Puritan community. Though this poem concurs greatly with the practice of selflessness, there seems to be no sight of God; even though she most likely was implementing Puritan teachings, there is no reference to that. Both Stowe and Child represented the power held within the realm of the “no self” during 19th century America. By dissolving the line dividing the public and private sphere, they were able to attain the notion that ‘power’ is actually held within a Christ-like servitude. Child greatly represents that the Mother’s power is that of Christ, revolutionizing the major patriarchal and societal system. The selfless mother, to create a society of decency and goodness would raise men of decency and goodness. “An infant’s wants should be attended to without waiting for him to cry.” (Child 23) “The simple fact that your child never saw you angry, that your voice is always gentle, and the expression of your face is always kind, is worth a thousand times more than all the rules you can give him about not beating his dog, pinching his brother, &c.” (Child 22) In the Child’s “The Mother’s Book”, the mother must always be attentive to her child and herself, solely for the sake of the child.

Bradstreet, though displaying a true affection for her children, seemed to have internally struggled with the Puritan stigma that one must not lose sight of God when catering to ones’ own loved ones. In “Before the Birth in one of her Children,” Bradstreet develops a hopeful vindication for her husband, in fear of her death during childbirth. Again in this poem, Bradstreet does not reflect upon the Puritan belief of Heaven’s glory after death, but instead revels in her attachment towards her earthly love with her husband. “If any worth or virtue were in me, Let that live freshly in thy memory And when thou feel’st no grief, as I no harmes, Yet love thy dead, who long lay in thine arms,…” (Before the Birth in one of her Children, Bradstreet) She revels in the infatuating love that her husband employs so much so that she desires it to be continued even after her death. And again there is not the slightest indication of God’s ultimate bliss that the Puritan belief promises after death. “In addition, Bradstreet assumes the impossibility of her family adequately replacing her if he remarries: if her husband loved her, he must “These, O protect step-dame’s injury.”” (Blackstock 239) Though not transparently, there is small suggestion that Bradstreet may have believed that she was able to be a good mother and husband, completely on her own power and accord. This tiny fragment of self-acknowledgment and worth relates comparatively to Stowe’s character, Cassy, in “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”. Cassy was a character, put in the same position as Tom, but created to display a completely contrasting array of consciousness: a different view into their slavery that almost horrified Tom. ““There’s no use calling on the Lord, — he never hears,” said the woman, steadily; “there isn’t any God, I believe; or, if there is, he’s taken sides against us. All goes against us heaven and earth. Everything is pushing us into hell. Why shouldn’t we go?”” (Stowe, Ch. XXXIV) Stowe has fashioned a character that only continues to live and endure by her own accord. Only through her own strength has she been able to continue to restrain the disdained horrific nature of slavery. Cassy could be a character of Bradstreet’s most extreme consciousness. There is small relativity, but Bradstreet does demonstrate dominating notions of enduring through her own power. Especially in “We May Live Together”, Bradstreet enforces an ideal that it is her own ‘love’ that is powerful and durable. “I prize thy love more than whole Mines of gold Or all the riches that the East doth hold. My love is such that Rivers cannot quench,…” (We May Live Together, Bradstreet) She values the significant influence and power of her own love, a love that she herself has manifested. It also seems as though there is conception that their love, in all its exaltation, will actually continue after death: provoking her husband’s love to be “worthy of heavenly reward.” (Blackstock 239) She has created an earthly love that compares to that of God’s love and glory.

Consequently, the main character of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”, however is the exact opposite form of Cassy. And like Child, Stowe worked upon the fact that giving up one’s self is indeed the approach to refine and endure. “”No! no! no! my soul an’t yours, Mas’r! You haven’t bought it, -ye can’t buy it! It’s been bought and paid for, by one that is able to keep it; -no matter, no matter, you can’t harm me!”” (Stowe, Ch. XXXIII) Tom has the bursting realization that no physical harm can hurt him, because he has given up the self of the physical world, knowing full well that his rightful ownership is with God. Unlike Cassy, Tom completely relies upon the notion that of the after life, that nothing can hurt him in the earthly realm; this is how he continues to endure the horrendous troubles and pain of his slavery. Through Tom, Stowe has rearranged the statures of ‘power’, through the very same Christ-like imitation carried by Child. Bradstreet has created another internal divide by imposing a Cassy-like earthly strength into the adversities of life, but also creating works that resemble Stowe’s Tom.

In “My Thankfull Heart with Glorifying Tongue”, Bradstreet has implicitly given up the self, but now for the sake of God. She has created work endearing the thankfulness she has in light of all that God has done for her. This is the division in her identity that solely relies upon the works and mercy of God. “My thankfull heart with glorying Tongue Shall celebrate thy Name, Who hath restor’d, redeem’d, recur’d From sicknes, death, and Pain.” (My Thankfull Heart with Glorifying Tongue, Bradstreet) She recalls upon all the misfortunes that she has endured, thanking God for the divine help that was always eventually sent. But after she has thanked God she continues into an unreserved hope that God may use her completely all the days of her life. She appropriates a complete giving up of the self to do all in utter sake for God. “Lord, whilst my fleeting time shall last, Thy Goodness let me Tell. And new Experience I haue gain’d, My future Doubts repell.” (My Thankfull Heart with Glorifying Tongue, Bradstreet) And just like Tom, she prays that God will continue to overcast all her doubts in the midst of whatever hardship she is and eventually will endure. Knowing that her days are numbered, she implements a continual and confident statement that she will forever implore the works of God. And to finish the poem, Bradstreet unrequitedly professes the purpose of her life. “Accept, O Lord, my simple mite, For more I cannot giue; What thou bestow’st I shall restore, For of thine Almes I liue.” (My Thankfull Heart with Glorifying Tongue, Bradstreet) Again she reiterates a confident statement that she lives for Him, and not for herself. But the utmost reverberation of contrast in this verse is that she wholly recognizes the little to none power she encompasses. Absolutely conflicting with the confident but fearful tone she renders in “We May Live Together.” The drastic division she has created within herself resembles closely to the dividing gap between Tom and Cassy.

During the 19th century, the highly propagated and traditionalized sphere of what, who, and how a woman should be was definitely still very much enforced. This can be outrageously comprehended through the hostile criticism that Fanny Fern received in response to the publications of “Ruth Hall” and many of her other articles. It seems as though there was an underlying fear that encompassed most of her criticism: a fear that her writing may influence the younger generation that a woman can become successful and happy without the shelter and socialized content of a man who supports. Though this particular notion does not have much contingency with the life of Anne Bradstreet, the means of Fern’s publications can very well be influenced by Bradstreet’s art. There is strong hypothesis regarding the autobiographical works of females being heavily discriminated against. The sense that no man would want to read about a women’s actual life. “But we confess that we cannot understand how a delicate, suffering woman can hunt down even her persecutors so remorselessly. We cannot think so highly of such an author’s womanly gentleness. (New York Times, December 20, 1854)” (Fanny Fern: An Independent Woman) There is strong reverberating 19th century misogynistic capsulation within this one critic’s review. Here was a woman crushing conventional female displacements and inducing raging feminine discourse: this would naturally cause hostile criticism towards the author herself rather than “Ruth Hall”. Underneath all of her criticism, it was antagonistic because she was generating success from a revolutionary autobiographical. Just like Bradstreet, Fern inputted an autobiographical into a pre-deterministic feminine and highly patriarchal society. Bradstreet’s whole body of ground-breaking work was a complete autobiographical, encapsulating all of her truest insight and struggling comprehension of her life.

Poetry was Bradstreet’s conduit into expressing the amass array of perceptions, thoughts, and feelings in a community where the very idea of feminine intellect was impeccably prohibited. But because of this she was able to create works that plunged into a truest form of human awareness and consciousness. In a wholly patriarchal surrounding, Bradstreet’s sole way to “assert” herself “as a poet and a feminist” was by “denouncing herself.” (Blackstock 238) Considered to be the first North American poet, Bradstreet had to subconsciously split her identity into diverse notions of humanity. Different split identities that would continue past her life to eventually influence a multitude of female authors developing their own narrative in their similar degrading communities. Bradstreet laid the foundation for North American feminine redemption.

““Now say, have women worth, or have they none? 
 Or had they some, but with our Queen is’t gone? 
 Nay Masculines, you have thus tax’d us long, 
 But she, though dead, will vindicate our wrong. 
 Let such as say our sex is void of reason 
 Know ’tis a slander now, but once was treason.”

(In Honour of that High and Mighty Princess, Queen Elizabeth)

Bibliography

Blackstock, Galloway Carrie. Anne Bradstreet and Performativity: Self-Cultivation, Self-Deployment. Early American Literature . Vol. 32, №3 (1997) , pp. 222–248. University of North Carolina Press. http://www.jstor.org/stable/25057095

Child, Lydia Maria. The Mother’s Book. New York: Arno, 1972. Print.

Stowe, Harriet Beecher. Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Or, Life among the Lowly. Pleasantville, NY: Reader’s Digest, 1991. Print.