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What a coup for women—the first American poet to be published was a woman. Anne Bradstreet served as a woman to be admired. Despite living in man’s world and the severity of the Puritan religion, Bradstreet used her cleverness to function outside of the accepted place of women in seventeenth century America.
“The Prologue” expresses the struggles faced by the women in Puritanical society. Women were meant to stay in the home, raise the children, and serve her husband. Considered to have little ability in anything other than the familial life, women were treated as incapable and unequal to the task of writing.
Bradstreet stands against this philosophy and avows that women can do what men believe is solely their bailiwick---write poetry. To Bradstreet, her responsibility was to prove that women were not the coy, fickle, foolish mediocrities portrayed by men. She was unafraid to criticize the Puritans with a sardonic wit and the use of classical writing style.
Clearly, Bradstreet disagrees with the stereotypical version of the woman’s place:
I am obnoxious to each carping tongue
Who says my hand a needle better fits,
A poet's pen all scorn I should thus wrong,
For such despite they cast on female wits.
The clever poem “The Author to Her Book” treats the poem as though it were her errant child. She compares the author to a parent who has worried over and loved her poetry. When a child goes out into the world, the parent can hope that he has prepared him for what he will face. The same is true of the poem. Will it be understood, accepted, and respected?
Part of style in the poem is to assume the role of a less than able writer. The poem has not always responded in an effective way. She calls her work “my rambling brat” revealing the negative side of writing and parenting. However, like any parent or writer, the child or work still belongs to her and she loves it despite its flaws. She does edit the work and amends it to more reflect her own personality.
Bradstreet uses personification to elicit a positive response from the reader. She worries over her book just as a parent shows anxiety when the child is to be judged.
Thy visage was so irksome in my sight;
Yet being mine own, at length affection would
Thy blemishes amend, if so I could:
I wash'd thy face, but more defects I saw,
And rubbing off a spot, still made a flaw.
The parent finds fault with the child just as the author is never completely satisfied with his writing. Bradstreet’s witty portrayal of the complexities of writing and worrying about its acceptance cleverly transcends gender and the Puritan harshness toward women.
Pay specific attention to the way Bradstreet characterizes her marriage. I'm not familiar with the two pieces you have listed, but she is famous for a poem or two about her marriage and/or addressed directly to her husband. She was a puritan from the American colonial period if I remember correctly. You are likely to find that she believes that women have specific duties that they should fulfill, and a specific station in society. Look for cues related to those areas.
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