As a female in a highly patriarchal society, Anne Bradstreet uses the reverse psychology technique to prove the point of her belief of unfair and unequal treatment of women in her community. Women who wrote stepped outside their appropriate sphere, and those who actually published their work frequently faced social censure. Compounding this social pressure, many women faced crushing workloads and struggled with lack of leisure for writing. Others suffered from an unequal access to education, while others were dealing with the sense of intellectual inferiority offered to them from virtually every authoritative voice, that voice usually being male. Bradstreet was raised in an influential family, receiving an extensive education with access to private tutors and the Earl of Lincoln’s large library. She was part of an influential family who encouraged her writing and circulated it in manuscript with pride. That kind of private support did much to offset the possibility of public disapproval.
Bradstreet believed that women in her society were treated unfairly, and that gender should be insignificant. In her “Prologue” she addresses conflict and struggle, expressing her opinion toward women’s rights, implying that gender is unimportant and male dominance is wrong. Bradstreet asserts the rights of women to learning and expression of thought, addressing broad and universal themes.
The “Prologue” has a humble tone with slightly hidden surprises, containing a muted declaration of independence from the past and a challenge to male authority. Bradstreet also uses a rather apologetic tone to draw in the reader so that they will form an interest in her writing despite her gender. In the beginning she refers to “wars,” “captains,” and “epics,” written specifically by male writers, worrying that her poems will shame the art of poetry. Continuing her self-demotion with an apologetic tone she talks about the “Great Bartas”, admiring his works, and sarcastically admitting that she will never be as talented as he is. The sarcastic tone of these lines cause the typical reader to reconsider that maybe women are not as bad as she portrays them to be, which is exactly what she has schemed for the reader to think.
Continuing, Bradstreet mentions regret for her lack of skill, in which she laments the fact that “A weak or wounded brain admits no cure” (stanza 4, line 24). As the reading progresses, she discusses the prejudice against women, knowing that if she expresses her true feelings, no one will look at her poem. Stanza 5, lines 25-30 implies that she despises anyone who thinks that women are better as housewives, and that if their work “proves well,” men will say it is stolen or is “by chance,” explaining unfair treatment of women. Following, she mentions the Greeks as appreciative of women, blaming the current society for the manipulation of women. She laments that the Greeks had fewer arguments on women’s rights and were more peaceful, contrasting it with the current values of society, namely that the Greeks are wrong and women are inferior.
Bradstreet uses sarcasm to express her emotions toward the male dominant society, saying that men are eternally correct, and women are inferior to them. She sarcastically says that men are better than women, implying the exact opposite, that women are in fact, equal in ability. She ends by stating that she does not think her work is worth a critic’s time, telling us that although she thinks women are not inferior, she cannot do anything about it, and that her works making men’s “glist’ring gold work but more to shine.”
Bradstreet was a very gifted and talented poet, recording early stirrings of female resistance to a social and religious system that was prevalent at the time. She used different tones, moods, and sarcasm to bring her poetry to life, giving a vivid, clearly worded image of what she wants her reader to know, a strikingly radical notion that her writing could be as competent as any male’s. Although much of her work was conventional puritan poetry, it shows a sensitivity to beauty that male writers of the time lacked.