Judith Sargent Murray and Phillis Wheatley and Anne Bradstreet’s all had strong religious backgrounds. Their writings contain numerous biblical references, and their faith strongly influences their perspectives. However, their poems differ in the meaning they find in religion and the message they choose to include in their writings.
Through religion, Bradstreet subtly advocates for respect and dignity for women in the poem “In honor of that high and mighty princess Queen Elizabeth of happy memory.” Bradstreet was a firm believer in Puritan traditions, which underscored women’s domestic role, as is evident when she writes about her husband in “To my dear loving husband.” However, through her writing, Bradstreet emerges as a nonconformist in a notoriously religious society. She defies Puritan writing norms by finding confirmation on the existence of God in nature rather than in the scripture. Although she could blindly rely on her father’s and husband’s beliefs for confirmation, Bradstreet challenged these beliefs and found religious salience in her own way. In the Puritan’s mind, secularism was something to be rejected, and pure spirituality was admirable. These conservative thoughts were reflected in the Puritan style of writing. However, majority of Bradstreet’s writings focus topics other than pure spirituality. For instance, the poem “To my dear loving husband,” does not seem to conform to the Puritan style of writing due to its secularist emotion and sentimentality.
Through religion, Murray gallantly points out the discrimination and restrictions imposed on women in “On equality of the sexes.” While Bradstreet took on a subtle approach to the limitations imposed on women in religion, Murray presents an analysis of the creation story that serves as an indictment of the religious constructs that allow men to maintain superiority over women. Her arguments in “The Gleaner” present women as valuable intellectual gems, who must be permitted to increase in value through education. Murray uses religion to reflect upon her own unhappy marriage. In “On equality of the sexes,” Murray relies on her faith to determine that women should not have to suffer in silence or act as subordinates to the moral authority of their husbands. In her words, they should not “…be degraded so low as to be allowed no other ideas than those suggested…” (729) by their men
Wheatley reveals hope for freedom from slavery through religious salvation. In her poem “On being brought from Africa to America”, Wheatley shows the salient power of religion to refine into angels, “Negroes, Black as Cain.” Her open acceptance of slavery and submission the salvation offered by Christianity is evidenced in the words “Twas mercy that brought me from my pagan land”(1) and “…There is a God and a savior too”(3). This poem reveals the extent to which religion was used as a tool to brainwash African slaves into believing that they were inferior to their masters. Through her writing, Wheatley offers fellow slaves an alternative view of religion. She shows that although it has been used to discriminate the slaves, it can be a way to escape their degrading lives, to find equality and freedom.
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