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Anne Bradstreet and Phillis Wheatley Defied the Status Quo in the Literary World

The literary world experienced many challenges, especially during the 17th and 18th centuries, many voices were suppressed. Majorly, the male sentiments found their way into the mainstream due to the societal values that exalted men and despised women’s efforts (Luken 2). Educated males dominated the world of literature depicting the societal norms and perceptions about gender and gender roles. However, two notable women appeared on the literary scene in the 17th and 18th centuries and overturned the beliefs on the abilities and limits of women in terms of intellectualism. Anne Bradstreet, the Puritan woman, born in England but brought to America where she grew up and launched her career in poetry, defied the odds concerning what a woman could do. Similarly, Phillis Wheatley, an African American born in Africa but shipped to the New World as a slave, grew up in Boston and surprised many by being the first black poet in America (Phillips 153). Both Bradstreet and Wheatley had different backgrounds but utilized their literary abilities as a form of resistance and statement against disenchanting ideals developed and upheld by the oppressive society during their time.

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Bradstreet and Wheatley represented two strikingly different groups in American society. Bradstreet was born in England but migrated with her family in the 1600s to America, where she commenced her career. Although her parents were Puritans, a religious group that restricted women in the assumption that God gifted men more intellectual superiority than women, Bradstreet became a poet anyway (Phillips 156). Bradstreet’s father allowed her to write poems for his reading pleasure despite understanding Puritan’s firm stand against women’s education. On the contrary, Wheatley was a slave brought from Africa in the 1700s and housed by the enlightened Christians in Boston. Although slaves seldomly had a chance to receive an education, Wheatley learned how to read and write due to her masters’ sympathy. In addition, the two poets lived in different centuries, Bradstreet in the 17th century and Wheatley in the 18th century (Luken 3). Regardless of their difference in backgrounds, Bradstreet and Wheatley became significant women in American history by pioneering literacy among the female gender of different representations in the U.S.

Bradstreet and Wheatley’s defiance of the social order and expectation shed light on the perspectives of women and slaves during their literary periods. In Bradstreet’s society, Women did not have an opportunity to express their feelings since love and sexuality were perceived as sinful. However, Bradstreet criticizes the prevailing social norms by showing the significance of love between husband and wife as unifying and eternal. Sensing rebuke and castigations, Bradstreet dares other Puritan women in the poem “To My Dear and Loving Husband.” The speaker says, “Compare with me, ye women, if you can,” confirming her endless love in her marriage (Bradstreet 4). Similarly, Wheatley’s poems are clear depictions of slave life and the taboos for the people in bondage. Wheatley explains the horrifying experiences of slaves, from how they were captured in Africa to how they were treated in America. The speaker sorrowfully narrates that she “Was snatch’d from Afric’s fancy’d happy seat” (Wheatley 43). Other than the brutal transportation, the poem describes how slaves and their families lived under tyranny. Thus, Bradstreet and Wheatley use poetry to describe how their societies perceived women and slaves.

Bradstreet and Wheatley’s poets deeply integrated religion into their writing by portraying God as the women’s sole refuge and source of solace from the oppressive society. In the poem “Verses Upon the Burning of Our House,” Bradstreet encourages surrender to God’s will. The poem explains the speaker’s personal experiences after losing her possession following a fire accident that consumed her house. After her despair and distress, Bradstreet says, “And to my God, my heart did cry” confirming that she prayed to God in the realization that all was His will (Bradstreet 8). Bradstreet understood that there was little she could do unless God allowed otherwise. Wheatley’s poem “To the Right Honourable William, Earl of Dartmouth” describes her journey from her ancestral home and the ideas Wheatley learned as a Christian. The religious teachings conflicted with what she experienced as a slave but concluded the poem by saying, “Where, like the prophet, thou shalt find thy God” (Wheatley 41). Wheatley realizes that society had different beliefs from the spiritual teaching but was confident that she has a chance in religion. Both poets believed that religion was vital and God had answers to all their woes.

In short, Bradstreet and Wheatley represented different groups in society, despite both being Christians. Bradstreet was a Puritan, and her religious beliefs did not allow women to access education, but she defied the norms and pursued poetry. On the other hand, Wheatley was a slave who got a chance to learn how to read and write due to the mercies of her master. During Wheatley’s time, slaves were not allowed to receive an education as their main responsibility was to offer labor. Thus, Bradstreet and Wheatley were distinctly different, but the two writers used poetry to challenge the oppressive social values and practices in their respective societies.

Works Cited

Bradstreet, Ann “To My Dear and Loving Husband.” Poetry Foundation. Web.

Bradstreet, Ann. “Verses Upon the Burning of our House.” Poetry Foundation, 1666. Web.

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Luken, Madison. “Healing the Fracture: How the Poetry of Anne Bradstreet and Phillis Wheatley initiated a Tide of Representation and Visibility in America.” Prologue: A First-Year Writing Journal 9.1 (2017): 2-6. Web.

Phillips, Christopher N. “Acknowledging Early American Poetry.” A Companion to American Literature 1 (2020): 152-166.

Wheatley, Phillis. “To the Right Honorable William, Earl of Dartmouth.” Poetry Foundation. Web.

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StudyCorgi. "Anne Bradstreet and Phillis Wheatley Defied the Status Quo in the Literary World." October 4, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/anne-bradstreet-and-phillis-wheatley-defied-the-status-quo-in-the-literary-world/.

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StudyCorgi. 2022. "Anne Bradstreet and Phillis Wheatley Defied the Status Quo in the Literary World." October 4, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/anne-bradstreet-and-phillis-wheatley-defied-the-status-quo-in-the-literary-world/.

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