Monday, March 21, 2016

An Analysis of Female Seventeenth Century Writers


     From the sixteenth through the eighteenth century, very few women were regarded as
“writers”. It was very difficult for them to challenge and speak out against the patriarchal system,
let alone be seen as professionals and make a living with their words. Both Anne Bradstreet and
Mary Rowlandson were both women writers who lived in the seventeenth century. Anne
Bradstreet was born as Anne Dudley in 1612, and Mary Rowlandson was born in 1637.
Regarding the likes of God, religion, and free thought, the poetry, prose and ideas of Anne
Bradstreet and Mary Rowlandson are poles apart. Although both of the works discussed in this
report are relevant and known today, Anne’s Bradstreet’s letter has staying power for different
reasons than Mary Rowlandson’s famous narrative.

     Although it is Bradstreet’s poetry that is the most highly regarded and well-known, her prose
is especially eloquent. She wrote a piece of prose to her children, which is prefaced by a poem.
The short verses state “This book by any yet unread,/I leave for you when I am dead,/That being
gone, here you may find/What was your living mother's mind./Make use of what I leave in
love,/And God shall bless you from above” (Delbanco, Heimert 137-138). It is clear from this
small excerpt that the love and adoration that Bradstreet felt for children was absolutely endless.
It deeply stresses the implications of motherhood, and legacy, and love, not only for her children,
but God as well.

     Her tone in this piece takes on an inflection of urgency and imminence. Bradstreet speaks a
lot of her death and how things will be when she is dead. She pleads for her children to
remember her by her words, and for the things that she did when she was alive. She wants them
to be spiritually developed, and continue in their religious experiences after she is deceased. In
the very beginning, when she is talking about “speakers” she is talking about parents addressing
children. She then goes on to say that “and those especially sink deepest which are spoke latest”
(Delbanco, Heimert 138). This can be interpreted a few different ways, but mainly as children do
not realize how important their parents are until they are gone. She then goes on to make an
example of her own childhood, and how God had acted upon her when she was young.

     She identifies the ages at which she developed conscience thought, and love and acceptance
for God. Although it sounds rather unbelievable and premature, Bradstreet says that she was only
about six or seven years old when she began learning of sin, disobedience unto her parents, and
how confession of her sins to the Lord and reading the Scriptures was exceptionally important to
her. She describes that she became more vain and sexual as she grew into a young teenager. She
was then stricken by smallpox at age sixteen, and describes that this was God’s way of
punishment. While she was sick, she confessed to God that she was proud and vain, and she
believed that he cured her because she was honest and acknowledged her sins. Shortly then after,
she was married and joined the church of Boston.

     It is clear that it was Bradstreet’s goal to have children from an early age. She says “It pleased
God to keep me a long time without a child, which was a great grief to me and cost me many
prayers and tears before I obtained one…that as I have brought you into the world, and with
great pains, weakness, cares, and fears brought you to this, I now travail in birth again of you till
Christ be formed in you” (Delbanco, Heimert 139). In the beginning of this quote, she feels as if
God is trying to emotionally wound her and keep something beloved from her, and she implies
that it made him eerily joyous. She prayed for years to “obtain” a child, which is a strange way to
explain the situation. She then speaks directly to her children and tells them that it took a lot of
pain, weakness, care and fear to bring them into the world. The very end says that religious
rebirth is a painful and laborious effort. She is merely trying to get her children to appreciate the
emotional and physical pain that she had to endure just to have them in her life, which is
something relatable to all mothers.

     Throughout the letter, Bradstreet discusses the experiences that she had with God in her
earlier years as a cautionary tale to her children. She talks about the love that she has for the Lord
and the love that he has for her. She tells her children that being punished by God is his way of
showing his greatest love and mercy. She also discusses Satan and atheism. She questioned “how
I could know whether there was a God; I never saw any miracles to confirm me, and those which
I read of, how did I know but they were feigned?” (Delbanco, Heimert 140). Although this letter
was truly meant to warn and advise her children, it serves as a window into many chapters of her
life. We can see that she is trying to keep her children safe from harm, and keep her presence
alive for them after she is deceased, but it has the same effect on us as readers because of the
way it was written. The staying power of the message is what makes this document relative to
this day.

     Mary Rowlandson is most famous for her narrative, which is entitled A Narrative of the
Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson. She wrote this after she was released from
being held hostage by Native Americans for eleven weeks. This piece is also less familiarly
known as The Sovereignty and Goodness of God. Although the language may be much more
heavy and repetitive, her writing is well-written from a technical standpoint. It is also peculiarly
subliminal because of its cyclical nature.  From a merely visual standpoint, you can see the
words and phrases such as “God”, “Lord”, “bodies” “poor”, “condition”, “cold”, “wounded
child” and “sick child”, and things of that nature scattered up and down the pages in all of the
removes. It could be taxing on the reader because it is so dense.

     In the beginning, Rowlandson recounts the horrific events of the Native American invasion of
her town and capture of her and her family and friends in great detail. She illustrates the women
and children expressing distress very well. The way that Rowlandson talks about God is far less
personal and less spiritual. She discusses the Native American invasion as an act of the Lord that
was meant to make sure that the townspeople “…would make us the more to acknowledge his
hand, and to see that our help is always in him” (Lauter 468).

     Visually, "Lord" and "God" are overwhelmingly noticeable each time you glance at every
page, in numerous places. It is easy to understand her main motivation for writing this piece.
Because it is a narrative, it does have a different tone than Anne Bradstreet’s letter to her
children. The narrative is told much more like a story than the letter, and there is little to no
advice in it. It is more generalized in its intonation because it is not written to a specific person or
people.

     Rowlandson refers to the Native Americans as “ravenous Beasts” (Lauter 469), which is
shocking to say the least, because just a few pages later, she changes her tone and discusses how
merciful God can be in the most horrible of times. She says “One of the Indians that came from
Medfield fight, had brought some plunder, came to me, and asked me, if I would have a Bible, he
had got one in his Basket” (Lauter 473). She then goes on to explain how she asked her captors
for permission to read. This change of heart could be attributed to Stockholm syndrome.
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     “When the Lord had brought his people to this, that they saw no help in anything but himself,
then he takes the quarrel into his own hand, and though they [the Indians] had made a pit (in their
own imaginations) as deep as hell for the Christians that summer, yet the Lord hurled themselves
into it. And the Lord had not so many ways before to preserve them but now he hath as many to
destroy them” (Delbanco, Heimert 264). Here she is depicting a scene where the people of the
Lord have been brought to a horrible downfall, and they could only think to turn to him and
nothing else. The Lord then takes matters into his own hands, as she says, and she illustrates how
the Christians have been put into this situation because they have followed the likes of God.
“The pit of hell”, as Rowlandson puts it, is an analogy for a very deep problem for the Christians.

     Both of these works document a very specific and crucial time in a very private and personal
way, however, Anne Bradstreet’s letter is more relatable, especially to parents. It is not every day
that the average person is captured by Native Americans and lives to tell the story. These works
will both live on, but for entirely different reasons. The alarming nature of Rowlandson’s
account is part of the reason why it has lived on for so long. Bradstreet’s letter, however, may
not be as famous as Rowlandson’s narrative, but it is more applicable and relatable to parents
and children. From a religious viewpoint, Bradstreet uses the intimate and the emotional aspects
of her life, and questions and doubts what she believes and presents these things to her children.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, Rowlandson’s main motivation for writing this captivity
narrative is based in religion, and plays on fear and sympathy more than anything. If Bradstreet
and Rowlandson were in a room together today, discussing these two works, they would have a
lot of conflicting ideologies.

Works Cited 
Delbanco, Andrew, and Alan Heimert. http://web.b.ebscohost.com.libproxy.plymouth.edu/.  Harvard University Press, Cambridge M.A., 1985. Web. 1 Dec. 2014.

Ruiz, Eva Flores, and Jesus Lorate De Castro. "Puritan Women Facing Suffering: Texts as Tests  of Survival..." (n.d.): n. pag. 2004. Web. 1 Dec. 2014.

Lauter, Paul. Rowlandson, Mary [White]. "A Narrative of the Captivity and Restauration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson." The Health Anthology of American Literature. 464-92. Print.

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