The Authority and Authenticity of a Mother: Anne Bradstreet

     In the book Reading Autobiography by Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson, the authors present the concepts of authority and authenticity as completely interrelated. The author’s authority (granted by the readers and based off of the writer’s own “personal knowledge of that experience”) to tell specific stories are certainly one of the main considerations when assessing the author’s authenticity (Smith and Watson 236). I thought that both authority and authenticity were incredibly important concepts to keep in mind when reading Anne Bradstreet’s letter to her children as well as her “Meditations divine and morall” because she relies heavily upon being a mother in order to establish both.

     In writing to her children and about being a mother, Bradstreet not only conforms to a religious Puritan script but also to a functional cultural script. She is a mother who hopes for the best for her children and this is not only socially acceptable but encouraged. In Thomas Shepard’s writings, he seems somewhat distant in his account of his first son’s death but seems to try to make the point that the more distant he is from his family the closer to god he will become. Bradstreet in comparison to Shepard is much more overtly gratified by her children. She takes a sweet kind of pride in being their mother and though she is concerned with their eternal salvation, she is very focused on their earthly forms as well. While reading and comparing the texts, I began to wonder if Shepard felt as though he even had “the ‘right’ to speak this story” of parental joy and focus in on his family as Bradstreet does because of his socialized male Puritan script (Smith and Watson 237). The men in the Puritan society were judged primarily by their relationship with god, whereas the women could find other outlets and connections within the domestic sphere.

     Bradstreet draws directly from the authority of being a parent. She cites no parenting booklets or formal education (although education is certainly assumed from the thoughtfulness of her work). Though she does at times offer glory to God and explain certain aspects of scripture, her voice is not continually carved out by praises like Shepard’s. She can be the authority figure because she is writing directly to her children yet her works are also definitely constructed in a universal way. I wonder if Bradstreet found some kind of freedom in directing her meditations to her son, instead of the world. Perhaps in this socially oppressive 17th century Puritan world, Bradstreet found more of an authority and a voice than Thomas Shepard specifically because of the love she had for and the happiness she was allowed to find in her family.

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