Anne Bradstreet's War Upon Tyranny
In matters of religion, Puritans in the Massachusetts Bay Colony had to tread carefully. If they strayed from orthodox beliefs, they ran the risk of reproach and even excommunication. This was especially true of women. Ann Hutchinson is a prime example. She was initially highly popular for her home meetings, but she began to draw notice from the powerful men in the colony. Hutchinson was preaching that people could speak to God directly, essentially disempowering the church and the clergy. To one Puritan leader, John Winthrop, this kind of message was a direct threat to their power; therefore, Winthrop made it his mission to bring Hutchinson to trial and banish her from the colony. She was not the only unfortunate female that fell victim to the stone-like oppression of the Patriarchy. Anne Bradstreet’s sister, Sarah Keayne, suffered a similar fate. She spoke out publicly against the injustices the Patriarchy committed against women. However, she failed to keep her social image intact. Winthrop and the other leaders stepped in to assert their authority against Keayne. As a result, Sarah Keayne was rejected by her husband and excommunicated from the church. Due to the fate of both women, the Puritan community was fearful that they, too, would become the next victims of the Patriarchy.
Ann Hutchinson’s and Sarah Keayne’s social demise weighed heavily on Bradstreet’s mind. Given that Anne Bradstreet’s father and husband served on the court of magistrates that convicted Hutchinson, Bradstreet would have been all too aware of the dangers of criticizing the Patriarchy. Even though she was aware of these dangers, she did it anyway. But Bradstreet needed to be careful to remain well liked by her community, by both men and women. One social misstep would lead to her own excommunication, and women would be left with no one to fight for their basic rights. As Wendy Martin notes in An American Tritych, Bradstreet was a protofeminist who sought to change the power disparity between men and women to break the bonds of oppression for all women. This is particularly evident in the poems Martin does not examine. In “To Her Father with Some Verses,” Bradstreet acknowledges that women are indebted to the Patriarchy but turns this debt to her advantage by making the Patriarchy acknowledge her value as a female writer.
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