Phyllis Wheatley and Anne Bradstreet: A Comparison





Essay 8 Wheatley: Question 2

Phyllis Wheatley and Anne Bradstreet: A Comparison

Phyllis Wheatley and Anne Bradstreet in their literary history work against the predominant perception that exclusive pieces by women in Early American Literature was lacking. Contrastingly, women during the colonial period were active writers who employed male literary approaches to mask their works and to increase the applicability and effectiveness of their writings. Wheatley in her refined poems conformed to the standard conventions employed by men in her era projecting a subtle assertion on female capabilities. Wheatley, as she progressed in her works, transformed the approach to reflect feminine matters in her world such as childbirth, earthly desires, and family. Bradstreet in the same way employed standard male convections to mask her writings. The two authors used religion as a source of inspiration together with their immediate physical environment. The divergence between the two comes in how they differentiate the persona in their narratives from themselves. Despite technical literary divergence, Wheatley similar to Bradstreet hides her identity through generalization of concepts and words.

On a technical level, the reader cannot perceive whether the writer is female as Wheatley and Bradstreet both conform to poetic conventions dominant at their time. At most, Wheatley is not too adventurous in her style employing rhyming couplets and iambic pentameter in similar patterns as her male poets (Urschel 1). Phyllis Wheatley uses elegy as her choice of poetic genre as frequently used by men. The objective was not to push the limits of meter and rhyme to cause any form of social revolution fashioned by writing. Moreover, Phyllis Wheatley had the desire to be incorporated in the circle of letters given to writers at the time as an act of acknowledgment (Urschel 1). In the public eye, in order to gain the level of recognition that she desired and called for in her writing, Wheatley had to hide her identity or make it vague by offering her texts to the established gender bias.

Phyllis Wheatley as a female writer, was a phenomenon in her era given the discriminative and objective society in which she lived. Controversies over her publications in respect to her verses teach on the difficulties in interpreting the writings of the ‘persona’ labeled as the other (Hector 1). America in the 19th and 18th century suppressed female writings in literary production. Societal avenues such as Christianity and other andocentric platforms allowed women to engage in publish. This avenue of response by Wheatley allowed her to familiarize the reader on how she traversed and succeeded against all odds. To heighten reader familiarity, Wheatley’s writing was from first-hand experiences hidden in allusions ((Hector 1). The author employs her life events to reflect on the American society’s changing perceptions of gender and race.

Anna Bradstreet in her work differentiates from the persona to defend herself and her public image from the dismissive perceptions and opinions on gender and race. In contrast to Wheatley, the act of differentiation is what lowers the revolutionary effect of Bradstreet’s work. As a reader, one can understand it was difficult for a woman, especially of African-American descent to be a poet. It is this that it becomes suspicious and tempting to inquire over the civility and calm disposition of Wheatley’s writing. For instance, consider On Being Brought from Africa to America, the author states, “It was mercy brought me from my pagan land/ taught my benighted soul to understand/ Christians and Negroes may be refined and join the angelic train/” (Shields and Lamore 107). Though the writing is generalized, one cannot argue that the narrative is not employing first-hand life events as the persona.

Bradstreet in her poems splits from the persona in inconsistent manners to how she defines herself as a female poet. In addition, the writer separates from the persona in how she relates and converses about God and Christianity. For instance, in To my Dear Children, Bradstreet in the line “rising radiance of Aurora’s eyes” can be seen to use classical allusion and irony to generalize her talk on God (Carretta 210). The general form of writing by Bradstreet evades any circumstance where she has to state her gender. The author though frequently stares her race to show how African Americans are oppressed in the society. The approach employed by the female poets can be referred to as a subtle war that was modest and appropriate in making the reader familiar with the social inequalities in lines of gender and race present in the 20th century. Wheatley and Bradstreet offer the reader a hidden narrative that is implicit in its text, subverted and filled with conflicts based on multiple worldviews. Given the extreme application of Biblical tenets in the American society, female poems such as Bradstreet and Wheatley employed spiritual interpretations to pass subtle challenges to their audiences to spark change. Technically, writing was composed of humble text that did not challenge meter and rhyme boundaries and allusions and irony that either hid or generalized gender.




Works Cited

Carretta, Vincent. Phyllis Wheatley: Biography of a Genius in Bondage. Athens, Ga: University of Georgia Press, 2011. Print.

Hector, J. Phyllis Wheatley. American Literature. 27 October 2010. Web. 15 June 2015.

Shields, John C, and Eric D. Lamore. New Essays on Phyllis Wheatley. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2011. Print.

Urschel, Linda. Puritanism, Patriotism, and Poetry: The Role of Christianity in the Lives and Lines of Anne Bradstreet and Phyllis Wheatley. Bronwen Fetters. 28 October 2013. Web. 15 June 2015.

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