Sample Essay - Classic English Literature -Anne Bradstreet
What Does Anne Bradstreet's work reveal about being a female in her society?
Anne Bradstreet was known as the first female writer and an outstanding Puritan figure of English colonies in North America. The works of Anne Bradstreet seriously contradicted the generally accepted life course of Puritan society; nonetheless she managed to defend herself in the face of absolute patriarchate. For the motives of her art, Anne was considered the first feminist. Belonging to upper-class society, she obtained education and learned history, several foreign languages, and literature. High-quality education gave Anne Bradstreet a distinct advantage over other women as she was educated enough to write with full knowledge about politics, theology, medicine and history. Although Bradstreet`s cultural heritage comprises diversified works, the women`s role is its primary motive. The author accentuated woman`s position in the society, both by directly describing her feeling towards her husband and reflecting on the significance of marriage (Bercovitch). Moreover, she unintentionally demonstrates her in-depth knowledge and excellent education.
In Puritan society the marriages were considered God-given commission for any women, whereas male and female were spiritually equal. However, the Puritans had a strong belief that the role of Eve in original sin elucidated the inborn moral weakness of women. They dreaded that women were vulnerable to temptation and possessed certain signs of sinfulness. For this reason, Puritans were convinced that women`s core function was to love his husband, obey him and support all his wills or concerns. Hence, in general, women suffered from subordination and, for example, were not allowed to sign contracts, conduct business or possess property. In many cases, Puritan women deeply resented the situations when their husbands were away from their homes and, therefore, treated their wives as more than ordinary women, which indicated that men were the heads of the household (“Gender, Race, and Class in the Colonial Era”). Generally speaking, Puritan women were traditionally considered weak and obedient wives, mothers and housekeepers.
Anne Bradstreet`s works were deeply rooted in Puritanism. For this reason, she described women as docile and helpless creatures who relied heavily on their husbands and gave thanks to God for being gifted with family. Anne accentuated the role that marriage played in the life of women. For instance, the poem “To My Dear and Loving Husband” revealed her true love and harmony and compatibility and absolute happiness that Bradstreet experienced in marriage. The line “If ever two were one, then surely we” (Bradstreet) she showed her strong ties with the gift of God. The acknowledgement of the marriage as a God`s gift was also evident in the poem “Before the Birth of One of Her Children” which was also a farewell letter to her husband. In this poem, Anne Bradstreet stressed that the death would bring physical separation from a person whom she loved. Nevertheless, Anne Bradstreet prayed that God would reward his widowed husband with long life “And if I see not half my days that's due, what nature would, God grant to yours, and you (Bradstreet). Moreover, she assumed that her husband could remarry and asked Go to protect the children from the relentlessness of their stepmother. These two poems showed that Puritan women highly appreciated marriage and strongly believed that God gave them family as a gift. Although Puritan women were displeased when their husbands were away from home, Anne Bradstreet felt lost without him and never complained of being maltreated. Her attitude towards husband`s departments were revealed in the poem “Letter to Her Husband, Absent upon Public Employment”. She faithfully conducted housekeeping and looked after children when he was away. Bradstreet`s passion for her husband represented the common belief of Puritans` idea of marriage (Bercovitch). In which both a wife and her husband are committed to be faithful to each other and love passionately. God united Puritan husband and a wife like once He united Adam and Eve at creation. In the same manner, Bradstreet described her relationships with the husband by directly quoting Genesis “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman, because she was taken out of man” (Bradstreet).
The second significant duty of Puritan women was motherhood. Puritan women treated motherhood as a divine gift and a cause for petitioning and earnest prayer. They never considered their babies a burden; on the contrary they believed that children were honor and blessing (Bercovitch). Despite her awareness of death risk that the childbirth may lead her, Anne greatly desired to have children. In the work “To My Children”, Bradstreet wrote “It pleases God to keep me a long time without a child, which was a great grief to me, and cost mee many prayers and tears before I obtained one, and after him gave mee many more” (Bradstreet). Multiple works were dedicated to her children with maternal unexhausted love. For instance, in the work “In Reference to Her Children” Bradstreet expressed how much she loved her born and unborn children and strongly believed that they all were united to complete each other.
Third, Puritan women never assumed their domestic work as worthless or meaningless. Their deep concern in family life was strongly associated with the religious background of Puritanism. Although Puritan women regarded childbirth and husband as God`s gift, they still refuted the Catholic view on motherhood and womanhood and need of “women purification” after childbirth the purpose of which was to remove the stamp of sexuality. This view was opposed by Puritans not only because they considered it unbiblical, but also because they valued motherhood, childbirth and sexuality.
Puritan women customarily supported their families with everyday needs. Hence, they were expected to prepare food, make clothes, keep the house clean and educate their children. For this reason, they were hardworking and busy all the time, but still they managed to serve their husbands when they came back home. Most Puritan women were illiterate; nonetheless, it was not connected with gender discrimination. On the contrary, women were encouraged to study, but only if they had time for it. Hence, due to the fact that women were engaged in domestic activities, childbearing, housekeeping, cooking and clothes-making, they could not dedicate themselves to education (Brecher). Nevertheless, obtaining higher position in the society, Anne Bradstreet managed to study multiple subjects and became an untypically intelligent person. The education obtained tremendously impacted the works of Bradstreet in which she challenged Puritan Men. Being a free thinker, she demonstrated that well-educated literate woman was able to improve her position as a mother and wife without competing with men. Although, free thinking and literacy were typified Anne Bradstreet, these features were not ordinary for a vast majority of the Puritan women.
However, regardless of the author`s self-confidence, she apprehended sharp criticism on the part of men. For example, in the poem “Prologue” she accentuated the nature of Puritanical background. Regardless of the fact that Anne Bradstreet considers herself equal to male poets, she was still enforced to remain humble and submissive (Bercovitch). The line “For my mean pen” (Bradstreet) emphasized that Bradstreet had a capability of writing about manly ideas such as war and politics. Nevertheless, she claimed that her gender did not allow her to write about the significant events that male writers were usually concerned with, including “wars, of captains, and of kings, of cities founded, commonwealths begun” (Bradstreet). Anne Bradstreet throughout “The Prologue” managed to justify herself as a writer that was worth respecting. Nevertheless, all her protests were gentle and careful in order not to draw criticism.
In conclusion, it is necessary to say that Anne Bradstreet in her works provided a detailed description of Puritan women`s lives. Obviously, Puritan women were concerned in family life and childbearing. They treated their husband as the God`s gift and strived for supporting them in every possible way. Puritan women were obedient and never opposed their husbands. The everyday life of the women was penetrated with the beliefs of Puritanism. Women cherished their children, considering them the blessing and honor. Although Puritan women were dedicated to their families by their own choice, they still suffered from inequality of rights and freedoms. In most cases, women were believed to have mild sense and body; nonetheless, they were equal in front of God. Anne Bradstreet represented the upper social class and, therefore, had more privileges, including education and in-depth knowledge on various subjects. Having more advantages, she strived for gender equality in the society
Bercovitch, Sacvan. The Cambridge History of American Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994. Print
Bradstreet, Anne. Poems. Classic Poetry Series. 2005. PDF.
Brecher, Adam. A Woman Not Fit for Our Society: Social Order, Gender and Authority in Late 17th-Century”. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001. Print
“Gender, Race, and Class in the Colonial Era.” 2010. PDF