Subversion Of Puritan Beliefs In Anne Bradstreet’s Poem To My Dear And Loving Husband
Over the course of history, women were constantly expected to behave a certain way, both in the public and private sphere. Due to the traditions of a patriarchal, Puritan society, women in early America were held to a standard that was less than the men in their lives. The power they had extended to the domestic sphere only, and anything beyond that was cause for suspicion. While many women accepted this role in life, Anne Bradstreet did not. Bradstreet knew that she had more to offer to the world than the role of “housewife” that Puritan society told her she was meant to become. One of the most notable ways she was more than Puritan standards for women was through her relationship with her husband, Simon.
Because Puritan beliefs told women that their love was to be as meek and hidden as their roles in society, Bradstreet was unable to show her love outwardly. However, she counteracted this by using her poetry as a means of communicating her innermost feelings. Bradstreet was able state her views about both her love and marriage and the roles of women in early American society through “To My Dear and Loving Husband,” all while disguising it as a hidden love message to her love.
The fact that Bradstreet relies on her husband for her sense of self is present at the beginning of the poem, specifically in the second line. Bradstreet uses “the word “man,” not the corresponding term “husband”; this grants him a level of independence from the relationship that she does not give herself” (Kelly). Elements of Puritan culture, an important factor in Bradstreet’s life, are indicated by the hinted unevenness in her marriage.
In Puritan society, women are subservient to their husbands, not the equal partners that are associated with marriage today. Despite her role as “wife,” Bradstreet is still able to challenge several of the many stereotypes that women encountered in the late 17th century. By using her poetry, Bradstreet is able to “deny the idea that men should dominate women” (The Voice of Women). She is able to voice her opinions carefully by utilizing her distinctly feminine role as a wife and mother to cover her true feelings.
The three main themes of the poem, love, wealth and recompense, are all supplemented by an ever present spiritual theme. Each of these themes is connected to Bradstreet’s Puritan upbringing and surrounding culture. Bradstreet’s theme of love is demonstrative of how “A Puritan woman’s physical passion [is] proclaimed as the nearest thing on earth to heaven” (Kelly). Bradstreet likening her love to “whole mines of gold” (line ) shows how much she puts that love above anything as earthly as “riches that the East doth hold” (line ).
Because Bradstreet knows she will never be able to truly repay her husband for the depths of the love she has for him and vice versa, she instead prays that the heavens will repay him in all of the ways she cannot. Bradstreet is able to subvert the idea that women are entirely meek and submissive beings by showing the depths of the love she feels for her husband, thus making women more powerful in their relationships with their husbands and the world around them.
Bradstreet, in the beginning of her poem, states her love for her husband in the following lines:
If ever two were one, then surely we.
If ever man were loved by wife, then thee;
If ever wife was happy in a man,
Compare with me, ye women, if you can.
Here we see Bradstreet using the rhetorical device anaphora, which is “a rhetorical device that consists of repeating a sequence of words at the beginnings of neighboring clauses, thereby lending them emphasis.” She opens with these “if/then” statements to really get her point across to the reader how important her love and relationship is in her life (Warn). “Through such repetition… Bradstreet tries to convince both the reader and her husband that their great love may signify salvation” (Kelly). In these four lines, Bradstreet wants those who read her poem to understand that there is no one whose love for their significant other is equal to or greater than the love she has for her husband. In a further attempt to prove this, Bradstreet urges other women to “compare with” her their happiness in love and marriage, though they will inevitably come up short. The immense love and passion that Bradstreet feels for her husband were unheard of in Puritan society at that time, and the only way she was able to voice it was through her poetry. She was open about it in ways that other women were not, clearly subverting the ways Puritan society attempted to control women in their feelings and their free time passions.
The theme of wealth is ever present in “To My Dear and Loving Husband,” in terms of the wealth of love that Bradstreet has for Simon. She brings up such extreme examples of riches in order to demean them and show that “they are worth less to her than the love of her husband” (Kelly). Many other critics of the poem also interpret these examples as things that are valued greatly by the majority of people at this time, which makes her love measurable to anyone reading her poem. The comparison of her love to worldly things instead of otherworldly things is likely due to the fact that comparing personal feelings to the joys of heaven was seen as an insult to the Lord, which was frowned upon in Puritan culture. “Puritan women were supposed to be reserved, domestic, and obedient to their husbands” (The Voice of Women).
Bradstreet challenges this idea, albeit subtly, by writing this love poem to her husband. The nature of this poem and the way it was written can be compared to the way that modern couples will sometimes shout their love from the rooftops for all to see. The reason that this is a subversion of traditional Puritan beliefs is that women in this time period were not really allowed to be open and expressive about their love lives in a public way. This outward display of love and affection is a traditionally masculine behavior, although Bradstreet hides this blatant disregard of traditional Puritan roles by connecting her love to her duties as a wife.
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