Outcasts of Academia
Encountering the “Other” in the Poetry of Anne Bradstreet and Phillis Wheatley
Anne Bradstreet and Phillis Wheatley were two of America’s early poets, who are known for their trailblazing work in American Women’s literature. These women not only published poetry (a rare enough thing in America during the 17th and 18th centuries) but overcame gender and racial difficulties in the process. As a woman writing in 17th century Puritan New England, Bradstreet was the pioneer of women’s American literature, sailing the hostile waters of the 17th century literary world, dominated by men. One century later, Wheatley also faced many obstacles; as an African slave, the racial prejudices which she faced were compounded with the gender discrimination that Bradstreet had battled a century before. Both women made remarkable social progress and advancement despite the challenge of writing from the position of the ‘Other,’ or minority positions, in which they found themselves. Bradstreet and Wheatley represent the outcasts of early American society, and so their literary achievements take on even more significance as they strive for gender and racial acceptance during America’s youth. The intellectual potential of women in 17th century Puritan culture was often minimized or dismissed. Most everywhere, they were barred from speaking or advising in a church or court setting, and were not largely supported as scholars or writers. The poetry of Anne Bradstreet represented a major step toward the rearrangement of the role of women in society. Much of her poetry scorned the typical Puritan view of women and emphasized their intellectual capabilities, as exemplified in her Prologue, where she navigates the tempestuous waters of cultural prejudices and stereotypes: “I am vulnerable to each scornful tongue who says my hand a needle better fits. A poet's pen all scorn I should thus wrong, for such despite they cast on female wits. If what I do prove well, it won't...
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