At the end of her life, Anne Bradstreet hoped to leave her children with two ideas about religion. One idea was overt in that the Puritan God did not chastise those whom He did not love. When chastising He did that by making a child sick or causing it to die or through financial setbacks. The other idea was covert and suggested that in the New World, the Puritan religion allowed for freedom of ideas and the creation of new gender constructs for men and women. Thus, religion allowed men and women to fully realize their ultimate human potential. Bradstreet recounted her struggle with finding God and her faith through her poetry and in her letter to her children near the end of her days. However, some of her writings suggest she did not follow the most obvious path in being true to her religion. Because she wrote and was published, even though her brother-in-law was the one who had her poems printed, it seemed Bradstreet was not the perfect Puritan woman. And her ideas about religion and humanism seem to be intricately woven with the New World. Through her prose readers get to know how Bradstreet thought about religion, life in the American wilderness, and what legacies she would leave her ancestors on earth.
Bradstreet’s religious struggles are clearly evident in her writing. For example, in the poem “In Memory of My Dear Grandchild Elizabeth Bradstreet who Deceased August 1665, Being a Year and a Half Old,” she wrote she bewailed the child’s loss, but at the poem’s end, she related she understood life and death were controlled by God. It seemed after feeling normal human emotions about a child’s death; she became complacent and relied on explanations for life and death that only He provided. Another aspect of Bradstreet’s religious views appeared in her letter to her children at the end of her life. In that letter, she discussed her efforts to come to terms with the ways in which even Puritans constructed their God. Her doubts are evident because she questioned why the Catholic religion was not the proper one, according to Puritans. She wrote, “They have the same God, the same Christ, the same word. They only interpret it one way, we another” (Baym 109). She questioned the very idea that there needed to be religious differences because all who worship have their sights on the same unseen being. Earlier in her religious life, Bradstreet said she questioned whether or not there was a God at all. Finally, because she lived in the wilderness, she came to understand that God existed because of the evidence of his works. The American landscape was often labeled as sublime, and Bradstreet seems to be no different when witnessing the awesomeness of the New World topography. In essence, she used Native American (or pagan) reasoning to come to realize God existed, even though she does not mention pagan ideas at all.
Life in the New World also seems to affect Bradstreet’s religious views covertly concerning how men and women behave. Some of her poems speak of the love she has for her husband. She often wrote that the two were as one, as in the poem “To My Dear and Loving Husband.” But in the Puritan belief system, the woman’s head was the man as Paul in the Book of Ephesians, Chapter 5 verse 22 clearly stated, “Wives, be in subjection to your husbands” (Metzger 277). Bradstreet definitely does not suggest in her writing that she is weaker than her husband, nor she is the “helpmate” God created Eve to be as described in Genesis. Bradstreet steps outside the Puritan prescribed female role construct in two ways. For one, she was published, and, while embarrassed, she did not apologize for it as did Mary Rowlandson was made to do in 1682. Secondly, Bradstreet wrote about being one with her husband. Even though the poem “A Letter to Her Husband, Absent upon Public Employment” begins with the line “My head, my heart, mine eyes,” uses the word head as in she meant her husband was her head. Instead, the poem meant she was still one with her husband (Baym 108). They operated as the same unit through all their body parts and senses. Never does Bradstreet imply she is less than her husband. Her poems suggest a sexual fervor in their coming together as one in the human condition just as religious belief suggests similar emotions people have when meeting with Christ and God in a religious union.
The legacies Bradstreet left to her children were ones of intelligence, openness, thoughtfulness, struggle, and triumph. Bradstreet expressed herself intelligently through her words. She opened up her innermost thoughts through poetry and thoughtfully struggled with religion, humanness, and love to come to the conclusion that there was a God. God existed because of His awesome works as evidenced in the New World. God loved those whom he chastised by causing children to die or by causing financial setbacks, as he did Job of the Old Testament. Bradstreet also evidenced that the New World offered new opportunities to love a spouse as one, equally, just as one united with God in the spirit realm. Bradstreet’s prose offers readers an exciting look into womanhood, faith, and love in the Puritan realm of New World in the 1600s. Her legacy she left to her family was one of the most interesting and complex women and the ideas that there was nothing wrong in intelligent, questioning, or human.
Baym, Nina, ed The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Seventh Edition. New
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Casper, Scott E., and Richard O. Davies. Five Hundred Years: America in the New
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Metzger, Bruce. M. and Roland E. Murphy, eds. The New Oxford Annotated Bible with
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