Restriction, Resistance, and Humility: A Feminist Approach to Anne Bradstreet and Phillis Wheatley’s Literary Works
Rowshan Jahan Chowdhury1
Abstract: Anglo-American and French feminists focus on women’s equality, women’s experience as writers, and feminine writing. Proponents of black feminism, by contrast, position black women in fundamentally different ways from white women and offer the concept of intersectionality which calls for including women of all races in feminist concerns. Adopting this feminist approach, my paper uses a retrospective analytical methodology and aims at establishing a connection between two women poets of early America: Anne Bradstreet and Phillis Wheatley. Anne Bradstreet writes about her experience of being a wife and mother, and overall makes statements about the patriarchal confinement imposed on women in her society in The Tenth Muse (1650). She had to succumb to the patriarchal Puritan society by writing poems secretly. Yet, she defies the “carping tongues” with her “mean pen.” Phillis Wheatley, an enslaved poet, published Poems on Various Subjects (1773) where she, like Bradstreet, wrote with a devotional homage to Christianity, but her poems also criticize those who “view [her] sable race with scornful eye.” Though superior to most whites in her intellectual and literary accomplishments, Wheatley is clearly never their social equal and remains enslaved. Wheatley and Bradstreet, being brought to a new world from their land of origin, encounter a complex “phallocentric” world. They oscillate between the two places and struggle to survive amidst the tripartite challenge of womanhood, motherhood, and patriarchal gender norms. The recent feminist discussions in academia mostly ignore how these two female poets fight intellectual battles and resist the patriarchal tradition, breaking the imposed silence and thus, gaining agency. Using feminist and gender theory, I examine their experiences as women and present a comparative analysis of the approaches that Bradstreet, as a white woman of the Puritan society, and Wheatley, as a black woman of the age of enlightenment, employ to assert their existence through writing.
Keywords: Phallocentric Discourse, Race, Resistance, Politics of Sustained Empowerment
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Published in August 2019