Ethics in Bradstreet

Anne Bradstreet’s letter “To My Children” details her spiritual autobiography and imparts her acquired wisdom onto her offspring. She describes her life in an ethical and religious context in hopes that her children will do the same. Despite any woman’s unwillingness to appear weak or flawed in front of her children for fear of setting a bad example, Bradstreet bravely admits that in her early teenage years “I had found my heart more carnal, and sitting loose from god, vanity and the follies of youth take hold of me” (Bradstreet 215). Although such a confession may feel shameful towards her children, Bradstreet justifies this event in her autobiographical letter as necessary in order to teach a spiritual message to her children.┬áIn her account of an adolescent illness she claims that “when I was in my affliction, I besought the Lord and confessed my pride and vanity, and he was entreated of me and again restored me” (Bradstreet 215). It is not a virus that made her sick or a doctor’s prescription that made her better, but instead God’s punishments and rewards. Her choice to interpret the facts of this story through a religiously significant frame show her intent to impart a sense of ethics upon the intended readers, her children.

There is also a question of ethics involved in the publishing and reading of this letter, “To My Children”. Although Bradstreet’s poems and texts are to be admired it seems unethical that someone found a letter so private, literally written on Bradstreet’s death-bed and addressed to her relatives in the event of her passing, and published it. It feels a bit like spying, reading it now even years after her death. It is a relief she has passed on and does not have to suffer hearing the literary criticism we are placing on the very private expression of love to her children that was published against her will.

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