Poetic Themes of Female Writers in America Term Paper

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Poetic Themes of Female Writers in America Before 1865

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Long before Feminism was established as a movement in literature and the arts in general, America produced quite a few brilliant female writers who went before their time and demonstrated that women have a voice and can express themselves intellectually on a par with men. Among the most famous and acclaimed women writers in America before 1865 there are Anne Bradstreet, Emily Dickinson and Margaret Fuller. Of the three, Margaret Fuller is the only one who actually dedicated her writings to the gender hierarchy issue which was specific of the nineteenth century. However, even if other women writers did not openly address the gender issue in their works, there is still a hidden tension in their thought which is obviously caused by their difficulty in finding their own voice in the male-dominated literary world. Thus, the poetic themes which are prevalent in the writings of the female poets are especially significant, since these indicate the relation that existed between the women and the world that surrounded them at the time of their life. Also, the writings of the female poets were influenced to a certain extent by the specific historical context in which they lived. Anne Bradstreet, for instance, was evidently influenced in her career as a writer by the Puritanical religion which was reigning in the United States in the seventeenth century. Fuller's work is, in its turn, imbued with the Transcendentalist ideology which was dominant in the nineteenth century. Emily Dickinson's poetry is perhaps the hardest to classify because of its originality and its utterly personal tone. Therefore, while the three female writers approach similar themes in their works, at the same time proving the influence that the above-mentioned ideologies and philosophies have on their works, what remain of especial interest is their personal voice and their major intellectual achievements.

Term Paper on Poetic Themes of Female Writers in America Assignment

Anne Bradstreet is widely recognized today as one of the first modern female writers in New England. A woman of a huge intellectual ambition who had been adamantly educated ever since her early childhood by her stern father, Bradstreet achieved during her life an impressive erudition, which equaled and even surpassed that of many of her male contemporaries. Although her poetry is, for its greatest part, rather conventional and imitative of other poets, Bradstreet has been acknowledged as a pivotal figure of the literary tradition. Her main achievement is thus the ability to find her personal voice in some of her literary pieces, and to subvert at times her own conventionalism. The prevalent themes of her poems are thus religion (with numerous contemplations on the nature of things and the universe itself) and the love she beard her husband and her father. Both of these themes are extremely relevant upon analysis, since they show how Bradstreet managed to find her own voice and subvert the overpowering influences of Puritanism on the one hand, and of the dominating male figures in her life (her father and her husband), on the other. Thus, in many of her poems Bradstreet obviously hesitates between a dogmatic, Puritanical voice and her own voice, urged by her passionate nature. Thus, even if it would be presumptuous to talk about a specifically feminine discourse in Bradstreet's works, there is nevertheless a beginning of feminine subjectivity in some of her most discussed poems.

Thus, in Bradstreet's writings there are recurrent traces of the inner struggle the poet must have led because of her double role, as a female and as a writer. The most poignant feature of her writing is many times the hesitation in her voice, between the indebtedness to the men that she often expresses, and the urge to assert her own subjective, authorial voice. Thus, in many of Bradstreet's poems there is a conflict between authority (as represented by the male world) and the self. Thus, one of most interesting things for analysis in Bradstreet's work is the way in which, while attempting to treat a certain poetic theme, the writer struggles unconsciously to gain her own voice. It can be said therefore that the dilemmas and the doubts that many authors have when pondering on their own works is doubly enhanced in Bradstreet's case as a female writer. Not only does she have to question her own authority as a poet, but also to determine her own relationship with the male authority that dominated the literary world.

In one of her most quoted poems, the Prologue, the poet hesitates thus between bringing homage to the literary achievements of men, and the revolt against the gender hierarchy that prescribes petty housework as the sole concern fit for women. Thus, Bradstreet starts off by displaying the usual modesty of the author who feels unfit to talk about great themes. Then, in perhaps her most famous lines, she revolts against the dominant male literary tradition, ingeniously hinting at the two instruments which seem to mark the gender boundaries: the needle for women and the pen for men: "I am obnoxious to each carping tongue, / Who sayes my hand a needle better fits, / a Poets Pen, all scorne, I should thus wrong; / for such despight they cast on female wits: / if what I do prove well, it wo'nt advance, / They'l say it's stolne, or else, it was by chance." (Bradstreet) the poet then argues for her point by bringing the argument of the classical muses that were described as female. In the end however, Bradstreet proves again condescending and modest, and acknowledges the 'preeminence' of men over women, claiming only a less significant place for herself as a woman writer in the literary tradition: "Men can do best, and women know it well. / Pre minence in all and each is yours-- / Yet grant some small acknowledgement of ours." (Bradstreet) This poem, as quite a few others from Bradstreet's works, indicates that there is an incipient feminine consciousness and subjectivity in the writer's work. Again, in the poems dedicated to the praise of God, or to the love for her husband and father, Bradstreet wavers between the obedience to God and to her father and husband on the one hand, and the impulse for self-assertion that she naturally feels as an author. Commenting on this work, literary critic Patricia Caldwell concluded that the poem is fraught with imagery of maiming or cutting which indicates the fear Bradstreet has of the male world. At the same time though, Caldwell interprets the poem as almost a declaration of war to men, and the needle as the female weapon: "The poem, with its freight of cutting, wounding, and maimed objects, seems to say, 'Don't hurt me, men.' Yet all the while, the speaker shoots out barbs or needles of her own, by fearlessly launching her poem in the masculine, old-world epic mode of the Aeneid, by tossing off puns, by playing on the art-versus-nature convention, by skillful rhetorical shifts -- in all these ways, she seems to laugh at the male literati. In the guise of subservience, couched in the conventions of poetic self-effacement, she needles her supposed critics."(Caldwell, 92)

Also, in the poem entitled to Her Honored Father Thomas Dudley, Esq., Bradstreet praises her father's literary achievements while minimizing her own. Nevertheless, the battle between the assertion of the self and the world of masculine authority is still present, and the homage to her father appears to be ambivalent: "Their paralells to finde I scarcely know, / to climbe their Climes, I have nor strength, nor skill, / to mount so high, requires an Eagles quill: / Yet view thereof, did cause my thoughts to soare, / My lowly pen, might wait upon those four."(Bradstreet) Thus, in spite of the fact that most of her work seems conventional, to the point of appearing dogmatically flat, the struggle against male authority is obvious many times. According to William Scheick, there are many parts in Bradstreet's work that point to her conflict with the Puritanical tradition (despite the apparent obedience) and with male authority also: "Part of Bradstreet's problem...derived from the place of humility in Puritan theology. Humility was considered to be a radical virtue...Beneath this conscious desire throughout her work, however, clues are buried, most especially in her elegies on infant deaths that suggest an assertiveness bordering on resistance to authority. The rhythm of parts of her autobiography has suggested to several readers that occasionally Bradstreet even experienced difficulty in honoring divine will."(Scheick, 171) Thus, it is obvious that beneath Bradstreet's apparent approach of conventional literary themes, there are signs of obvious revolt against male tradition and authority, as well as against the Puritanical tradition to which she seemed faithful.

Margaret Fuller was another prominent female writer of the United States before 1865, this time a controversial one however. During her lifetime and a while after, her supposedly presumptuous attitude in her writing, elicited a lot of malignant criticism from contemporary male writers, such as Emerson, Hawthorne or Carlyle. The literary tradition that followed… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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