Comparing Anne Bradstreet and Mary Rowlandson Essay
Anne Bradstreet and Mary Rowlandson were two influential women in early American literature. They were both women of “firsts”. Anne Bradstreet’s poems were the first published volume written by an American (110). I found it amazing that Bradstreet, a woman, was the first considering how women were looked upon in matters of literature and science. I admire her for being modest about her poetry and how she is very unassuming, but at the same time Bradstreet never gives writing poetry up.
She continued to write about love, God, her suffering, and her children. In a time where women were treated as inferior and not as intelligent, Bradstreet is an inspiration. Mary Rowlandson was strong in her faith and held on to hope throughout her ordeals. Her Indian captivity narrative was the first of its kind and began a whole collection of captivity narratives. She was a good example that hardship can better a person. In the context of her own time period, she showed that keeping faith in God and relying upon His word and timing are all you need in life.
She also proved that a person can come out on the other side of the “savages” still a devout Christian. In the context of modern ages, she models the classic lesson of walking in somebody else’s shoes or in this case, moccasins. She finds that the Indians are not as savage as her former and fellow Puritans made them out to be. Rowlandson learns that the line between the Puritans and the Native Americans was not as big as she believes in the beginning. The Indians showed respect and civility towards her and sometimes she descended into savagery. Rowlandson seemed to discover that civility and human decency is based on the person, not the race. Anne Bradstreet wrote many poems including “The Prologue”.
This poem is about her poetry and how, although stated with a sarcastic tone, her work would never be as good as a man’s poetry. In “To My Dear Children”, Bradstreet writes a letter to her children for when she is dead and gone. It is filled with advice about God. She mentions all the times she had strayed away and God always brought her back to him. Mary Rowlandson’s capture was in 1675 during King Philip’s war. She discusses her experience in her narrative The Sovereignty and Goodness of God, Native Americans were burning down her town, and killing many of her relatives and neighbors. Most of her family is taken from her during this time.
Her husband is out of town, and two of her children were captured as well. Her youngest is kept with her, but they are both severely injured and the child eventually dies. Rowlandson is then sold to another Native American and is visited by her other children to whom she reads a bible one of the Indians gave her after another raid. She believes the Indians are running from the English Army and they keep moving around. They meet up with King Philip and Rowlandson discovers that the Indians will trade her food and other resources for her work as a seamstress. During her captivity she is treated with a combination of kindness and cruelty from her captors. She experiences cruelty from a few of the Indians who threaten her life several times and from her “mistriss”, Wettimore. Wettimore throws out Rowlandson’s bible, she chases her with a big stick after Rowlandson wouldn’t give up her apron, she does not feed her well enough, and many other grievances. Rowlandson experiences kindness from some of the other Indians who let her ride on the horse when her and her child could no longer walk after they were first captured due to injuries. There were also Native Americans who would shelter her and feed her when Wettimore turned her back on Rowlandson. Rowlandson even says in the twelfth remove that her master was the best friend she had of an Indian, showing that not all of the Native Americans were mean to her (Rowlandson 86). Rowlandson never gives up hope of going home, especially when she finds out her husband is looking to pay her ransom. She relies upon God to do what is right in His own time, which explains why she did not run away in the first place. When her ransom is paid and she goes back to her husband, they get their children back as well as Rowlandson’s sister.
These two women demonstrate an extraordinary devotion to God in times of trouble. In their experiences they go through many trials and hardships and come out of them stronger in their faith than when they started. It is remarkable that although Bradstreet was never captured as Rowlandson was, she still went through similar adversities and sufferings. Reading the two works together is important because it gives a better sense of the relationship with God at the time and how women were thought of and treated in their culture, using two different approaches and contexts, some poetry/letters from an ordinary village and a narrative from an enemy camp.
The Puritans saw God as an active God. He was everywhere and everything was a sign indicating if they were on the right path or not. They believed they were the “chosen people” and God was looking out for them and bringing them closer to Him. If something bad were to happen it was God correcting His children. In the preface of The Sovereignty and Goodness of God it says, “It is no new thing for Gods precious ones to drink as deep as others, of the Cup of common Calamity,” (Rowlandson 64). Both Bradstreet and Rowlandson have had their share of this drink although Bradstreet’s pain is more from nature and Rowlandson’s is more inflicted from people. God is not using others to punish Bradstreet like He did with Rowlandson. Bradstreet talks about her suffering in her letter “To My Dear Children”. Bradstreet is awfully sick, “After some time I fell into a lingering sickness like a consumption together with a lameness, which correction I saw the Lord sent to humble and try me and do me good…” (Bradstreet 124). Bradstreet says that every time she starts to drift from God, He strikes her with a sickness such as the smallpox (Bradstreet 124). She took an act of nature as God’s hand in her life. Another natural problem Bradstreet sees as God’s Will is childbirth. 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…” (Bradstreet 124). She eventually has many children, but she comes to understand that God does everything in His own time and that there is a lesson to be learned through suffering. Rowlandson saw her captivity as God correcting her.
She thinks about previous Sundays in the third remove when she was free and how she used them frivolously: The next day was the Sabbath: I then remembered how careless I had been of God’s holy time: how many Sabbaths I had lost and misspent and how evilly I had walked in God’s sight; which lay so close unto my spirit, that it was easie for me to see how righteous it was with God to cut off the thread of my life, and cast me out of his presence forever…” (Rowlandson 74). She sees that God is chastising her for her disobedience to His word. They both see trials and tribulations as God making them into better Christians. They do not give up on God because they are suffering; they see God in the torments. Bradstreet tells her children about how God has punished her in sickness and in her children’s sickness, “but by one affliction or other hath made me look home and search what was amiss,” (Bradstreet 124). Reading them both together brings Smith 5
out the way in which God was seen to work in early America even when things got hard. In today’s culture most people turn away from God in times of trouble. Both of these revolutionary women went through traumatic incidents and it drew them closer, not farther, to God. They were revolutionary in the sense that they were both daring to write and be a voice in a society dominated by white men, not in the sense that they wanted to separate from Britain. Rowlandson’s narrative is straightforward and gets down to the unpleasant details that God has put her under. Bradstreet does not go into the specific grim details of her diseases in her letter, but they both have the understanding that God works through miracles and miseries.
In addition to giving Mary Rowlandson and Anne Bradstreet hardships, God has given them comfort while undergoing these sufferings. Bradstreet strays a little farther than Rowlandson. Rowlandson is not tempted by atheism as Bradstreet is in her letter. Bradstreet mentions that Satan has “troubled me concerning the verity of the Scriptures…I never saw any miracles to confirm me, and those which I read of, how did I know but they were feigned,” (Bradstreet 125). Bradstreet looks to Him in her sufferings, but she finds Him in nature as she says, “That there is a God my reason would soon tell me by the wondrous works that I see,” (Bradstreet 125). Rowlandson just wasted holy time and found Him in her torment. God always brought relief to them through it all. Rowlandson says in the third remove, “Yet the Lord still shewed mercy to me, and upheld me; and as he wounded me with one hand, so he healed me with the other,” (Rowlandson 74). He is a constant source of correction and comfort to His people. He is the God of revenge and solace for these women. Bradstreet says, “these times [distress] (through His great mercy) have been the times of my greatest getting and advantage; yea I have found them the times when the Lord hath manifested the most love to me,” Smith 6
(Bradstreet 124). He takes care of her in her illness, both physically and spiritually. Rowlandson finds his comfort when she is captured and has to leave her town with her injured child. She says: It is not my tongue, or pen can express the sorrows of my heart, and bitterness of my spirit, that I had at this departure: but God was with me in a wonderfull manner, carrying me along, and bearing up my spirit, that it did not quite fail,” (Rowlandson 73). Her journey is chockfull of her reliance upon God’s alleviation. It seems every few pages she is thanking the Lord for holding up her strength and keeping her going. Bradstreet is the same way, although her work is not at detailed as Rowlandson’s story she has the same concept of being in worldly pain because God is displeased with her and then getting relief and aid when they have corrected the sinful behavior.
Along with getting a better understanding of the relationship Puritans experienced with God, Anne Bradstreet and Mary Rowlandson present the way in which women were treated in early America. Bradstreet said in “The Prologue” how her poems were probably going to be received, “I am obnoxious to each carping tongue/ Who says my hand a needle better fits,/ A poet’s pen all scorn I should thus wrong,/ For such despite they cast on female wits:/ If what I do prove well, it won’t advance, They’ll say it’s sto’n, or else it was by chance,’ (Bradstreet 25-30). She’s saying that most people will think she needs to put down the pen and pick up the needle to sew for her family. If she does write something worthwhile, everyone will believe that either she plagiarized it or that it was a lucky shot. When she says “female wits” we know that if she were a man she would not be questioned as much as a poet. She feels, because of her gender, as if she can’t write about, “wars, of captains, and of kings, / Of cities founded, commonwealths begun, / For my mean pen are too superior things…” (Bradstreet 1-3). It is interesting Bradstreet did not try to disguise the fact that she was a woman poet as so many other literary women did before her. She mentions that the 9 Greek muses were women, “But sure the antique Greeks were far more mild/ Else of our sex, why feigned those nine/ And poesy made Calliope’s own child;” (Bradstreet 31-33).
Throughout the whole poem she is putting down her own work in comparison to a man’s epic poetry, but in a way that suggests that she is not ashamed of her gender or her work. She knows that in her society she will not be taken seriously. That she has to, “Let Greeks be Greeks, and women what they are;/ Men have precedency and still excel,/ It is but vain unjustly to wage war,” (Bradstreet 37-39). She might not be taken seriously, but she is going to continue to write and strive to become better. Reading Bradstreet’s “The Prologue” I had a better sense of the context into which Mary wrote her captivity narrative. She wrote it in a time when women were not considered as rational and logical as men shown in Bradstreet’s work. Rowlandson does not actually address the female issue in her narrative. It is in the background though. She seems to know and accept her role as a woman, but when the Indians begin to see her as a member and pay her for her sewing, something she does not receive in the Puritan society, she starts to demand what is due to her. An example is in the ninth remove when a Native American asked her to make him a shirt and did not pay her, so when she went to fetch water by where he lived, “I would often be putting of him in mind, and calling for my pay: at last he told me if I would make another shirt, for a Papoos not yet born, he would give me a knife, which he did when I had done it,” (Rowlandson 84). The Puritans have their hierarchy with men at the top. Rowlandson gets a taste of the Native American lifestyle where the women are just as Smith 8
important as the men. Rowlandson also proved that women were not as weak as the men believed them to be. The fact that she went through all this torture and heartache and continued to move on and calculate what she needed to do to survive shows just how strong she was. Bradstreet also demands some recognition in “The Prologue”, “Men can do best, and women know it well / Preeminence in all and each is yours; / Yet grant some small acknowledgment of ours,” (Bradstreet 40-42). She knows that she does not have the power to change the order of things, but she wants some credit for the work she does, just like Rowlandson.
The two women come from two different contexts, but they have similar experiences. Rowlandson is taken from her home and forced into dire situations. Bradstreet is at home, but still undergoes her own woes. They represent the hardships and testing of faith that most, if not all, early Americans faced from two different, yet two very similar, perspectives. In reading Rowlandson’s Sovereignty and Goodness of God the details and actual events are the most prominent thing. In Bradstreet’s works the feelings behind the actions are the most prominent thing. Reading them together brings into focus the actual events that were going on and the feelings early American women were feeling.
Bradstreet, Anne. “The Prologue.” 1650. The Norton Anthology American Literature. 8th ed. Vol. 1. New York: W.W Norton, 2013. 110-12. Print. Bradstreet, Anne. “To My Dear Children.” 1867. The Norton Anthology American Literature. 8th ed. Vol. 1. New York: W.W Norton, 2013. 123-26. Print. Rowlandson, Mary White, and Neal Salisbury. The Sovereignty and Goodness of God with Related Documents. Boston: Bedford, 1997. Print.