Anne Bradstreet

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What symbols are used in "The Prologue" by Anne Bradstreet?

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We can pick out a lot of symbolism in this short poem. Bradstreet's key theme is women's work and how it should not be seen as a "war" waged against the preeminence of men for her to do something thought unbefitting a woman. As a symbol in this regard, she invokes the image of an instrument with "broken strings." The broken strings symbolize the lesser figure of woman as compared to man: as an instrument not fully complete, she suggests, she cannot be expected to produce as pure a sound as a better instrument might—so men need not worry that she is trying to challenge them.

Later, we come across the symbols of the "needle" and the "pen." The needle, which critics would rather see in the speaker's hand, symbolizes all forms of traditional women's work, including sewing and knitting. The needle here represents all the things thought better uses of a woman's time than writing, such as housework, childcare, and so on. The "pen" Bradstreet wields is her own small war against this, but note that it is "a Poet's pen"—suggesting that it is borrowed, rather than being her own. "Quills" later make an appearance in the poem to symbolize the same thing: poetic creation.

Toward the end of the poem, Bradstreet uses a very powerful image contrasting the symbols of ore and gold. The "ore" here is Bradstreet's self-deprecating reference to her own poetic output—she is suggesting that it is "unrefined" and meager. However, she is arguing, this does not mean she should not be allowed to produce it—on the contrary, male writers should be happy that she is writing, because her "ore" makes the "gold" of their output look even more beautiful by contrast.

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