Women of the Early American Literature: Bradstreet and Rowlandson
It cannot be denied that during the early American Colonial period, women were mainly regarded as domestic figures. Although they were provided with the right to socialize and be educated, such endeavors were pursued only to enhance their skills for their would-be future roles as understanding and supportive wives, and responsible mothers. The social image of an ideal English woman was one, who does household chores, who supports and loves his husband dearly, who works to preserve family unity and harmony, who takes good care of the children and teaches them moral conduct, and one who believes firmly in God and keeps a strong religious faith.
In the case of women who indulged in literary works at the time when American literature was just blossoming, they assumed the same status as that of any other woman in an American society – they acted as mere advocates of the Puritan society. During the time of early American literature, women who had the chance to have their literary works published and distributed such as Anne Bradstreet and Mary Rowlandson became seemingly ideal embodiments of Puritanism.
To prove such claim, it is essential to look at the prevailing themes in the notable works of these two early American women poets – struggle and God’s punishment, God’s will, and the irresistible grace. In their literary works, both Anne Bradstreet and Mary Rowlandson mostly tackled struggles and hardships. In her poems, Bradstreet discusses a multitude of her sufferings, which includes being sickly (acquiring many diseases such as small pox and tuberculosis), having tedious childbirth experiences as a mother of eight, being left alone by her husband most of the time, and losing material wealth such as her house.
In the case of Mary Rowlandson, her famous narrative narrated the arduous journey as a captive of an Indian tribe which lasted for almost three months. During that time, she suffered from starvation, separation from her children and her husband, the death of her six-year old daughter, and more. As their literary works delivered pictures of despair and struggle, these also demonstrated that both Rowlandson and Bradstreet survived their ordeals because they had Puritan faith. They equated their sufferings as God’s will and punishment. As a result, instead of resisting, these women poets accepted their sufferings as preordained events.
In the case of Rowlandson, she somehow saw her captivity as God’s punishment. For her, the attack of the Indians to her town of Lancaster was orchestrated by God because it was strategic and timely. She noted that since the attack happened just after her husband and the soldiers who protected them left, it must be that God was the one who ordered such drastic event and that the event was for “his holy ends”. Furthermore, when she saw the destruction created by the attack of the Indians, she claimed that it was not their enemies (the Indians) who inflicted such devastation to her town.
Rather, it was God who destroyed it: “Come, behold the works of the Lord”. (Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson) Another part of Rowlandson’s narrative which demonstrates that she regarded the success of her captors as a punishment from God was when she likened her Puritan village to a forsaken city whose people broke their covenant with God: “Oh, that my people had harkened to me, and Israel had walked in my ways; I should soon have subdued their enemies and turned my hand against their adversaries.
” (Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson) Another thing which showed that Bradstreet and Rowlandson were embodiments of ideal Puritan women of the early American colonial period was the fact that their literature showed that both always submitted to God’s grace. Both of them recognized that God can give, but he can also take. For both of these women, God’s act of ‘taking’ something from them should be glorified and accepted in the same way they did when they were receiving something that He has blessed them with.
A typical example is that of Bradstreet’s poem about the burning of her house, which contained her family’s precious properties, including her treasured book collection: “And when I could no longer look, I blest his grace that gave and took, That laid my goods now in the dust. Yea, so it was, and so ’twas just. It was his own; it was not mine. Far be it that I should repine. ” (“Verses Upon the Burning of Our House, July 10th, 1666”) In the above poem, it is clear that Bradstreet regards the burning of her house as an unbearable event.
However, she did not bare hate against the Almighty, nor did she plunged into despair upon the lost of her material possessions. Instead, she chose to “blest His Grace” who was capable of giving and taking. She also noted that the event was just for the material wealth was not really hers, but God’s. Bradstreet also exhibited her Puritan faith through her utmost acknowledgement of what God blessed her with. A clear demonstration of her gratitude to God’s grace can be traced in one of the poems she wrote regarding her daughter’s recovery from a nearly fatal illness:
“Bles’t be thy Name who did’st restore To health my Daughter dear When death did seem ev’n to approach And life was ended near. ” (quoted from Glimpses #23: Anne Bradstreet; A Puritan Wife and Mother) As for Rowlandson, she showed her recognition of God’s irresistible grace in two accounts of death – one of her own child, and that of her Indian mistress’ baby. When her wounded daughter died in her arms after suffering from fatal wounds during the attack at their town, she maintained her faith that it was God who has taken her daughter from her.
After burying her daughter, she comforted herself with the idea that she is thus united with God: “There I left that Child in the wilderness, and must commit it,… to him who is above all” (Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson) In addition to that, when the child of her Indian mistress dies, she saw the event as another opportunity and blessing that God gave: “There was one benefit in it – that there was more room”. (Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson)
It should also be noted that whenever Rowlandson received an act of kindness from her captors, she always regarded these actions as manifestations of God’s grace, not signs of civility from the Indians. For her, the fact that she was not killed and instead, fed by her Indian master was because she belonged to God’s chosen people: “Yet the Lord suffered not this wretch to do me any hurt. ” (Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson) On the whole, most of the notable works of Anne Bradstreet, and Mary Rowlandson’s major literary piece were narratives of sufferings.
In their works, both demonstrated their strong Puritan beliefs, and thus, both became symbols for Puritanism. Their works showed that they both believed that their ordeals where a product of God’s wrath upon those who did not honor their covenant with Him. Furthermore, their literary pieces supported the idea that such sufferings were preordained, thus chosen people – just like Bradstreet and Rowlandson – should accept their fate and humbly submit themselves to God’s will. Also, the literary works showed their belief that God can give and take; and that both of these actions should be regarded as blessings.
Demonstrating the strong Puritan faith, the literary works of Bradstreet and Rowlandson were allowed to be published and distributed even at a time when poetry was regarded strictly as a “manly” endeavor. This suggests that the two adhered to the social norm at that time, and were, in fact, deemed as role models for women in a Puritan society. Works Cited: Bradstreet, Anne. “Verses Upon the Burning of Our House, July 10th, 1666”. Anne Bradstreet. com. 2002. 25 July 2009. <http://www. annebradstreet. com/verses_upon_the_burning_of_our_house. htm> Rowlandson, Mary. Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs.
Mary Rowlandson. Downloaded from Gutenberg. org. 1997. 25 July 2009. <http://www. gutenberg. org/etext/851> Woodlief, Ann. Biography of Anne Bradstreet. Virginia Commonwealth University Website. 25 July 2009. <http://www. vcu. edu/engweb/webtexts/Bradstreet/bradbio. htm>. Who was Mary Rowlandson? Mary Rowlandson. com. 25 July 2009. <http://www. maryrowlandson. com/> Glimpses #23: Anne Bradstreet; A Puritan Wife and Mother. Christian History Timeline. March 2007. 25 July 2009. <http://www. christianhistorytimeline. com/GLIMPSEF/Glimpses/glmps023. shtml>Sample Essay of Edusson.com