The New England Puritans of the seventeenth century were notoriously strict in their beliefs. Few of them, however, were theologians, and these beliefs, though they dominated society, were comparatively simple and few. Two of the most entrenched were the belief that women are subordinate to men—an idea encapsulated in Milton's Paradise Lost: "He for God only, she for God in him"—and the idea that it is sinful to be attached to the wealth and pleasures of this world.
In "The Author to Her Book," Anne Bradstreet seeks to address the first of these concerns and assuage the annoyance of any male Puritan that the first published poet in America is a woman. She calls the book the "ill-formed offspring of my feeble brain" and says that it was "snatched" from her, meaning that she was not responsible for its publication. Throughout the poem, she refers to the book as a poor, imperfect, blemished thing. This is in sharp contrast to the classical tradition of poets such as Horace addressing their own completed books with a sense of pride. Bradstreet's modesty here is both an exhibition of the Christian humility required of any Puritan and a specific self-denigration, that as a woman she has only "homespun cloth" in which to dress her thoughts.
The vanity of worldly wealth is a common theme of Bradstreet's and is addressed at some length in "The Flesh and the Spirit," an allegorical dialogue between two sisters: Flesh, who praises "wealth and vanity", and Spirit, whose thoughts are fixed on "a higher sphere." I have called the poem a dialogue, but it is really two monologues. Spirit has two-thirds of the space and thoroughly rebukes Flesh from the beginning of her speech, declaring herself her sister's enemy. Her certainty contrasts with the questioning tone of flesh, and we are never left in any doubt as to Bradstreet's views or her Puritan orthodoxy.