How do I explore the ways Harper uses identity crisis in her poetry?

An exploration of identity crises and Frances Ellen Watkins Harper’s poems might focus on religion. In Harper’s poems, it appears as if the spiritual realm welcomes people of identities that the human world tends to punish and malign.

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It seems like you could start your exploration of identity crises in Frances Ellen Watkins Harper’s poems with religion. As you might have noticed, many of the speakers in Harper’s poems are struggling. Their identities seem to be beset and brutalized by their surrounding society.

You might want to take a look at “Renewal of Strength.” This poem begins with a person in a prison house that’s “falling to decay.” It seems safe to say that that’s not an auspicious beginning. Yet look at the next two lines: “But God renews my spirit’s strength / Within these walls of clay.” Here, Harper pivots from the earthly world to the spiritual realm. The transition from physical to spiritual seems to provide relief and hope for the speaker’s put-upon identity.

In the second stanza, the speaker notes a slowly creeping “dimness.” Yet that threatening encroachment is contrasted by a clear view of heaven. Again, in this poem, it seems like religion supplies a helpful counter to the pain and injury of real-world identities.

In “Double Standard,” religion also seems to provide relief from troubled identities. In this poem, a girl appears to have had an affair. As a punishment, society assigned her a set of unfavorable identities, including “wretched girl” and “outcast.” Yet these hostile markings are countered by God. “I’m glad God’s ways are not our ways,” says the speaker. She goes on to assert that God loves “those whom others ban.”

Once again, based off of these two poems, it seems like Harper’s best answer to identity crises is to not put too much stock in how other humans define you. Humans are not God. Harper’s poems suggest that God probably has a more compassionate, loving view when it comes to identities.

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