American Literature I
Dr. Diane Drake
9 January 2001
Anne Bradstreet’s Life and Poetry
Anne Bradstreet uses her writings to express herself when women were unable to express themselves and their feelings verbally.
Bradstreet lived in a time totally dominated by males. Males were the ones to go to school to get an education; they were the ones who ran businesses, governments, and families. The women had one purpose in this time period, and that was to give birth, raise children, and take care of their husbands until they were unable physically to do so or they died. Women did not have the luxury of attending public schools. If they were fortunate enough, like Bradstreet, women received home-schooling, but most of the women were not fortunate enough to receive an education, because their families were not able to teach them. Fortunately for Bradstreet, her parents were educated Puritans, who wanted her to be able to read and write so she could read the Bible and understand God’s word. She was also fortunate to have a husband who was educated and allowed her to write, but if her writing would have begun to interfere with her household duties, he probably would not have allowed her to continue. However, she was allowed to continue and therefore had the chance to describe expressions of her life that she is unable to communicate verbally with anyone, especially her husband, who would not have felt such communications were seemly.
In “Before the Birth of One of Her Children,” readers can see how Bradstreet expressed feelings on paper that today a wife would discuss with her husband. She was writing to her husband in this instance because she is worried about her pregnancy. She fears she may not make it through, and she is telling her husband to remarry a woman like her. One thing about this poem that could be seen as unacceptable is that it goes against her religion. She is a Puritan, and she should not be concerned about death, because it is God’s will, and therefore, it is good.
This is also not the only work she writes that deals with death. “In Memory of My Dear Grandchild,” the reader sees a very meaningful two-verse poem telling of a young child who has passed away. Bradstreet is sad to see the child go, but also sees it as a gift because the child has not had the chance to sin and, therefore, will go straight to heaven. Unlike in the poem about her own dying, she is willing to follow the strict Puritan belief that death is good because it takes the dead to be with God.
Bradstreet does not only express feelings she has towards her family in her writings, but she also deals with the facts of the world in which she lives. Men, at this time, are seen as the “Superior Beings,” and women are seen as possessions with really nothing to offer except child bearing. In the “Prologue,” Bradstreet sends a mixed message, first apologizing for the quality of work she does in comparison to a man’s, and then she goes on to state how women can write just as well as a man; they just do not receive credit for it. This is a contradiction to her first several statements, but she knows her place in society and does not go past those boundaries. This is probably why in verse eight she gives men an ego boost and says there isn’t a comparison between her works and theirs; theirs is and always will be better. This admission probably also keeps men reading her works.
Bradstreet has an excellent way of expressing her feelings through her writings. This is fortunate for her because it is a way to keep the world from “getting to her.” She knew that literally speaking out about her feelings was unacceptable, but she could not hold them in, so she put them into writing. This gave her a sense of relief, and now it gives readers an understanding of a woman’s life in Bradstreet’s lifetime.
13 January 2001
I could hardly
fall asleep last night because I was so anxious for today to come. You see, today is the first time that I get to go with father
and help in the purchasing of new slaves for our plantation.
The first slave-trading ships of the season arrive today, and most of the
plantation owners from the region are expected to be in town and attend the
auction. The spring planting time
is here and all of the plantation owners are eager to get slaves in the field to
ensure a long enough growing period for all of the crops.
Many plantation owners are feeling the loss of slaves to death. Several slaves died from the frigid winter and the numerous fires that engulfed slave shacks. The slaves, in an attempt to stay warm, often put too much wood in their fireplaces and some of the slave quarters burned down. In our plantation alone, we lost three slave shacks to fire, and only one slave was able to escape, but unfortunately, he eventually died from the severity of his burns. We also lost several due to natural causes. Most of the plantations experienced similar situations, so the auction today is expected to be quite an affair. Everyone is eager to see what condition the new slaves are in.
I have paid careful attention to father and the conversations he has had with fellow plantation owners. Father is looking to buy several women of child bearing age, children who can handle the day-to-day chores, and as many other young men as he can get to do field work. When father talks with the other plantation owners, he continually insists that you can tell in slaves’ eyes whether they will be good slaves or not. He thinks that the look in their eyes is just as important as their strength in determining if they have the ability to be good, hard-working slaves. I asked father what to look for in their eyes. He says that the best slaves he has ever owned had a little bit of a sparkle, but also some anger. Father believes that the sparkle shows they have a good personality and attitude towards life. The anger in their eyes shows that they will work long and hard. These traits, he believes, gives insight into their inner being and tells him whether or not they will be faithful servants. Father hopes that all of his slaves will be happy while working at our plantation. He says that happy slaves are good slaves and that usually, if they are happy, they work harder and can be trusted to do more difficult tasks.
When we got to the auction, we could see the slaves standing in the merchant’s yard. Since it was a little bit before the auction began, we took our time to view prospective slaves. Father pointed several out to me and said, “That will be a good slave—the look in his eyes, you can just tell he’ll be a good one.” When I viewed the same slave, I struggled to look at his eyes. I just couldn’t get past the ravaged bodies of all the soon-to-be slaves. I questioned father about the seemingly thin shape and unhealthy look of their bodies. I was told that on the ship, the slaves were seldom fed enough and often became ill, but once they were purchased and had a chance to recover and eat a few meals, they would be okay.
After looking around, father told me we had to go get a good spot so we could rush into the yard when the signal was given and, hopefully, get the slaves that we wanted. Father saw eleven slaves that he thought had the potential to be good slaves, but he figured we would maybe only get six or seven of them because other plantation owners would probably beat him to some that he wanted. When the signal was given—the beating of a drum—everyone who wanted to purchase slaves rushed into the yard and started picking their merchandise. Father was excited when he got some of his top picks, and eventually we were able to get nine of the eleven slaves that he wanted. He was extremely happy and, after paying his bill, we took them to our plantation and let them see their new living quarters, and home.
5 March. 2001
Comparison Between the Jamestown and Plymouth Settlements
In the early
1600’s, English colonists began settlements in America.
The first permanent settlement was Jamestown and was located in present
day Virginia. This settlement was considered unsuccessful, even though it
lasted for nearly 90 years. The second permanent settlement, the Plymouth
settlement, is located in present day Massachusetts. Today, it is considered to
be the first successful settlement. The
reasons for the settlements are why Jamestown failed and Plymouth succeeded.
Jamestown was founded in May of 1607 when three ships carrying 105 people arrived in the New World (“Jamestown”). The early settlers came in hopes of finding gold and silver and were considered to be more adventurers than actual settlers. This in itself nearly led to the demise of the settlement because the colonists were not devoted to the colony. The colonization of the area was started with hopes that the Native Americans would provide cheap labor. From the writings of John Smith, it is discovered that this was not the case. In The General History of Virginia, New England, and the Summer Isles and even in “John Smith’s relation to Queen Anne of Pocahontas,” it can be inferred that the settlers lived in constant fear of the natives. The natives seemed to terrorize the people, and even though they were known to be nice at times, the Europeans didn’t trust them and continued to view them basically as barbarians whom they could potentially use for manual labor (12-19).
Failure of the settlement can also be linked to the eagerness of adventurers who were in search of gold and silver, which could bring them great monetary wealth. Their unwillingness, however, to do manual labor such as building proper shelters and growing necessary food caused their efforts to fail. Other reasons that the settlement failed was that the people were very dependant on the arrival of supplies from England, which were very inconsistent, and also the terrain. The settlement had been built in a swampy area, and the drinking water was impure. This led to malaria, pneumonia, and dysentery that often threatened the entire settlement (“Jamestown”). These challenges were too great for the early adventurers who did not have enough incentive to overcome the mounting odds, and this, ultimately, led to the failure of Jamestown.
Pilgrims who were seeking freedom from religious persecution founded the Plymouth settlement in 1619. The Pilgrims were separatists who were having a tough time in Europe and decided things might be better for them in America. Upon their arrival in America, the men agreed upon the Mayflower Compact that stated that no one person could have total control, but rather the decisions would be up to a group of men. These men would then make decisions that would be in the best interest of the entire group. This allowed more people to have a say in the self-government of the small group in America that, at times, were threatened with mutinous speeches and conflicts among the settlers (Bradford 33).
Another reason the settlement was successful was that the settlers did not have a choice. Because they arrived late in the season and would not have been able to return due to the weather; failure was not an option. They had originally planned on arriving farther south along the coast where it was warmer. However, due to navigational errors and adverse winds, the Pilgrims landed in the New England area (“Plymouth”).
The Pilgrims are lucky to have survived not only the crossing of the Atlantic Ocean, but also overcoming relationships with the natives. Bradford writes that upon reaching the New World, the “barbarians showed them no small kindness in refreshing them, but these savage barbarians, when they met with them were readier to fill their sides with arrows than otherwise” (28). The Pilgrims, like the settlers of Jamestown, had to deal with encounters with the Native Americans of this nature. The colonists of Plymouth realized they had to persevere. They realized the Natives were not going to leave and that they could not leave either, so in a sense, they had to learn to live around each other. The earliest they could return to England, had they wanted to, would have been after winter. Even then, though, they had nothing to return to.
Ultimately, the fact that the Pilgrims were seeking religious freedom and not monetary wealth was one of the biggest differences as to why they succeeded and the Jamestown adventurers failed. The Jamestown settlers tried to recreate everything they had in England by exploiting the natives as slaves. When the Native Americans did not cooperate, this frustrated the settlers and played a part in Jamestown’s demise. The Pilgrims were not looking for help from the natives, but rather to create a new life in America that was different from what they had in Europe. This led them to be self-sufficient and helped create the first successful settlement in America.
“Of Plymouth Plantation.” The
American Tradition in Literature.
Ed. George Perkins and Barbara Perkins. 9th ed. Shorter ed. Boston:
McGraw-Hill, 1999. 26-33.
“Jamestown.” World Book Encyclopedia. 1990 ed. Chicago: World Book, Inc., 1990.
"Plymouth Colony," Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia. Microsoft Corporation,
1997-2000. 12 Jan. 2001 http://encarta.msn.com/find/Concise.asp?ti= 03E9E000>.
Smith, John. “The General History of Virginia, New England, and the Summer Isles.”
The American Tradition in Literature. Ed. George Perkins and Barbara Perkins.
9th ed. Shorter ed. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 1999. 12-24.
Return to syllabus.