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A Glimpse Of Female American Authors And Their Writing

1389 words - 6 pages

While it is no secret that the past is fraught with prejudices, literature gives readers a unique glimpse into the realities of being an early American woman, but only through careful analysis. Women were not permitted to publish merely to express their own thoughts or sentiments at the time, so understanding the true emotions and motivations behind early publications can be a challenge. A moral or religious lesson could be used to excuse the breach of etiquette incurred by publishing their works, but even with moral lessons for their readers, female authors needed to justify their writings and maintain their ‘proper’ place of subservience to the will of men, God, or social order.
In an effort to conform to social order, Anne Bradstreet was pressured into subverting the value of her own poetry. In “The Author to Her Book,” Bradstreet speaks of her poetry like her child and belittles it mercilessly. She declares it unfit for critical reading, deciding that “’mongst vulgars may’st thou roam.” (225). Bradstreet derides her poems for their imperfections and emphasizes her dissatisfaction with them – all in the book in which they are published. Her guilt over and justification of her publishing are exclusively feminine, as no male poet of the time would feel the need to apologize for his publication. Bradstreet also remains carefully obedient to social norms by using feminine-coded imagery to describe her work. In addition to the obvious metaphor of a child, Bradstreet writes: “In better dress to trim thee was my mind / But nought save homespun cloth i’ th’ house I find.” (225). These images of her mind as a house and the finer points of her poetry as clothing are strongly feminine. If Bradstreet’s mind is a home, she has some claim to dominion over it due to her place in the domestic sphere, and if the flourishes and beauty of fine clothing are similar to well-written poetry, then she has some right to attempt to write such works. Still, Bradstreet remains almost pitifully humble, dismissing the value of her poetry as a whole as to maintain her proper position in society.
Position in society was difficult for all women, but for a literate and articulate female slave, maintaining propriety while being published was all but impossible. Phillis Wheatley managed to pen incredible poetry, despite her unlikely background, but also spent her entire career enduring accusations of plagiarism as critics doubted that an African, and a woman at that, could be capable of such a feat. Her deep consciousness of her own low station is life was clearly evident in her work. Her poem “To the University of Cambridge, in New England” spends almost as much time downplaying her origins as it does encouraging students to be both inventive and faithful. She refers to herself as newly come from “the land of errors,” emphasizing her consciousness of her station in life as a slave (766). This admission might undermine her credibility, but instead she uses it to strengthen her...

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