Anne Bradstreet, born in 1612 in England, was married to Simon Bradstreet and graduated from the University of Cambridge at 16. A couple of years later, after moving to America and having eight children, she became one of the first poets in the American colonies. Phillis Wheatley Peters was a slave in the home of a Boston merchant, where she also wrote her famous works and celebrated black literature. Moreover, Wheatley proved with her poems that black slaves could be talented writers and artists. Despite that, both artists are now recognized before their voices were drowned out. This is due to the specifics of the epochs in which Bradstreet and Wheatley lived. Moreover, if Ann Bradstreet was an aristocrat and led a noble life, then Wheatley was a black slave. It becomes evident that the colonialists did not want to support women’s literature, especially African literature. 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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Despite that Bradstreet and Wheatley were women, they still represented different groups. Bradstreet lived in affluence, attended social events, and had access to higher education. On the other hand, Wheatley was a slave who was forced to work all her life in the family of a rich white merchant. Moreover, at the age of seven, she was taken from her homeland in West Africa and brought to Boston with the rest of the unfit slaves.
Another factor that distinguished these two artists is time and era. Bradstreet, living in the 1600s, faced discrimination and segregation in society based on gender. In those days, the female poet was not taken seriously in literary circles and publishing houses. Women’s novels, poems, and essays were read only by family members of the artists themselves, and major magazines and newspapers refused to publish them. However, in 1650, the first collection of Bradstreet’s poems was released, which proved that women could still be published.
Wheatley, living in the 1700s, also faced various forms of discrimination. However, in addition to the bias among male writers, she also struggled with racial segregation. Moreover, the century of this poet was marked by the American Revolution, which affected each life of an American person in one way or another. During the struggle for independence, Wheatley expressed her protest against slavery and the established way of life of the colonies. Moreover, one of Wheatley’s most famous poems was dedicated to George Washington. Thus, Wheatley wrote: “Proceed, great chief, with virtue on thy side, Thy ev’ry action let the goddess guide.” (Wheatley 40). This verse expresses how compassionate the poet was about Washington and Revolution’s purposes.
In American society during the 1600s and 1700s, it was thought that women should not show their feelings. Among men, especially among the aristocrats and high society, it was believed that excessive emotions in women were a sign of various mental disorders. Such emotions and feelings as tantrums, sadness, and grieve most often led women to psychiatric hospitals. Moreover, in high society, girls could not conduct polemics on political and social topics. Men claimed that women did not have enough education and intelligence for such topics. Thus, for Wheatley and Bradstreet, poetry and literature became the very place where they can freely show their feelings and raise sensitive issues.
For many years, slaves in the New World were forbidden to receive any education. However, the Wheatley family taught her to read and write when they arrived in the Americas. Thanks to this, the artist could freely read the Bible and British literature. Besides, Wheatley was very concerned about the fact that most slaves still live without these necessary skills. In her early writings, she addressed Harvard students, where she noted their privilege over the black community (Byerman, 2019). In her works, Bradstreet also touched on acute and relevant topics for her. She was not attracted to the lifestyle of the wife of a high-ranking man. Dinner parties, balls, and high society seemed boring to her, which she denounced in her writings. In this way, both women challenged the foundations of the society that discriminated against them in one way or another.
Religion and God certainly played a key role in the lives of these two artists. Being a committed Puritan, Bradstreet devoted a large number of her works to the theme of God. According to Anne Bradstreet, salvation and redemption are among the critical elements of her life (Alkhafaji, 2019). Moreover, the poet and the Puritans believed that God sends down suffering on people to prepare them for future grace. On the other hand, Wheatley arrived in America at an early age, and religion did not come to her immediately. Despite this, much of her literature is also devoted to God and biblical motifs. The woman had to go through many difficulties and obstacles, but faith always helped her. Religion also helped Wheatley become aware of her female and black identity in a predominantly white male society.
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In conclusion, both Bradstreet and Wheatley were prominent representatives of different groups. Anne Bradstreet was an aristocrat’s white and wealthy wife, but she was still a woman who was not taken seriously. She was not sympathetic to the noble life of high society, and she found salvation in her faith. Wheatley was a black slave who was abducted from her native country at an early age. Such women were not only not taken seriously in literary circles but also in general among society. Thus, both poets, being the discoverers of women’s poetry, challenged established social values and defined a new literature vector.
Alkhafaji, W. M., & Al-Rashid, E. H. (2019). American Puritan Elegy: Biblical Sources in Anne Bradstreet’s Poems. The islamic college university journal, 2(54).
Byerman, K. (2019). Talking Back: Phillis Wheatley, Race, and Religion. Religions, 10(6), 401.
Wheatley, P. (1776). To his excellency general Washington. Virginia Gazette, 1.