Anne Bradstreet is often praised as being one of the first feminist voices in colonial America which, perhaps, is misleading. Her poetry adhered to the standard themes and styles of her male contemporaries, glorifying male-dominated society and never questioning the authority of the men that controlled her life both personally and spiritually. She was content to be the property of her father, husband, and Puritan society as a whole. However, because she worked within the confines of the Puritan era's gender roles and literary techniques, Anne Bradstreet was able to shed light on the oft overlooked existence of women within the society.
By the time Anne Bradstreet was born in the early 1600s, concrete gender roles, enforced by government regulation, church doctrine, and simple tradition, had been firmly in place for centuries. These gender roles dictated that women were little more than extensions of their husbands meant to be passive and servile, to perform basic household duties, and to praise their husbands and God. In the Puritan society, this was further compounded by the focus on humans' innate sinfulness leading back to the original sin of Eve, a convenient female scapegoat. Because of Eve's sin, Puritan men seemed have an underlying mistrust for all women believing that, like Eve, they were greedy for power or at least more susceptible to temptation. Thus, any woman who tried to break free of their defined role as daughter, wife, or mother was seen as a threat to the Puritan religion and the strength of the community. Guided by such harshly misogynistic beliefs, it becomes easier to understand the reasoning behind witch trials; any form of rebellion against church guidelines was sin and could easily spread to corrupt all Puritans, thus casting them away from God's grace.
As a Puritan woman, Anne Bradstreet was expected to remain a domestic creature. Though it was common for wealthy women to receive an education, using that education for anything more than teaching their children or memorizing the Bible was considered an act of dissent. Thus, when Bradstreet's poetry was first published it was accompanied by a disclaimer stating that the works were, "the fruit but of some few hours, curtailed from her sleep and other refreshments" (Cowell 187). Because her authorship might have been considered a play for power in the patriarchal Puritan society, such a disclaimer was necessary; it reasoned that, while she had indeed written poetry, her life was so dominated by caring for her family and maintaining her domestic duties that in order to find time for writing she had to give up sleep and leisure activities. Bradstreet's ambition might be considered positive today, but in Puritan society a woman with ambition was to be feared, especially one with such obvious talent and intelligence.
Bradstreet was able to craft poetry that followed the strict poetic structure common at the time; she utilized iambic pentameter and rhyming couplets to...