Analyzing the Flesh and the Spirit by Anne Bradstreet

Modified: 4th Sep 2017
Wordcount: 1000 words

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Five Literary Criticisms

Throughout history, there have been many religious faiths and practices that aim the same goal in different ways. One of them was Puritanism and the Puritan believed that the best way to gain admission to heaven was to focus on how sinful they were. Anne Bradstreet was the first Puritan figure in American Literature and in her poem titled The Flesh and the Spirit, she discussed Puritan practices. This essay will analyses the poem with 5 literary criticisms, including Marxist Criticism, Feminist Criticism, New Criticism, Reader-response Criticism, and Psychoanalytic Criticism.

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Starting with the Marxist Criticism, we need to look at the era’s economic conditions first. Anne Bradstreet lived in the Massachusetts Bay Colony and the colony was highly dependent on the import of staples from England. The Puritan dislike of ostentation led the colony to also regulate expenditures on what it perceived as luxury items. Items of personal adornment were frowned upon. In the poem, we see two characters discussing what kind of life people should have. The sister named Flesh tries to explain to her sister named Spirit that the World has everything that could keep them happy and content. Flesh’s this kind of approach to the earthly goods is totally against Puritan believes. As the colony Bradstreet lived in already frowned upon luxury items, the sister Spirit says, ”My Crown not Diamonds, Pearls, and gold, / But such as Angels’ heads infold.” Here, she means that she doesn’t have a materialist personality. The poet, Bradstreet, reflects her colony’s world-view for the economic matters in those lines.

When we try to analyze this poem using the Feminist Criticism, we simply need to ask some questions regarding to poet’s sex, education, and then look at the characters. The poet was a woman. And when we read her biography, we see that she didn’t attend any school but was educated by his father. This informs us that she lived in a male-dominant society because girls didn’t attend school even if her father was a steward. The characters in the poem are also girls and they discuss religious matters. Here, the author breaks the male-dominant society and makes her female characters question the religious matters, especially the Puritanism. When the subject is religion, one shouldn’t even question the most unimportant thing. But the sister Flesh questions it and all she says is totally against the Puritanism seen in the poet’s colony. Since the poet herself is a woman, we can assume that a woman discusses a religious practice in a male-dominant society.

Analyzing a poem with New Criticism requires a person not to take background information of the poet, poet’s other works or the story in the poem into consideration. When we read what Spirit says about earthly goods and how she criticizes what Flesh claims that people need to enjoy them, we can understand that this poem reflects the Puritan beliefs. Words used in the poem belong to the English spoken at least 350 years ago. Metaphors were also used in the poem. The character Flesh is a metaphor for earthly items, such as diamonds, pearls, and gold. The poem is not also in a stanza form. It looks like a wall of text. This means that the poet didn’t want to separate what is wanted to mean. It means that the poem is all about the same thing. Rhymes used in the poem also makes it sound better and that way it attracts readers’ attention.

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When I try to analyze this poem as a reader with the Reader-response Criticism, I can directly say that this poem is about Puritanism; therefore, religion. Since Spirit seems to be more dominant in the poem, the poet’s environment is a Puritan society. I’d say this poem is not different than other religious poems because they all aim one goal: Heaven. It is the way they discuss what to do in order to go to Heaven. Flesh seems to be a sinner character whom readers should avoid. I don’t know whether it’s okay to blame a character to praise a religion or religious practice, but this kind of behavior would make me more uninterested in that religion or practice. As the verses say, ”No Candle there, nor yet Torch light, / For there shall be no darksome night.” they just sound to be impressive sentences that attract people to that religion – no different than that of all religions have.

To analyze this poem with the Psychoanalytic Criticism, we need to analyze the characters’ thoughts, their fears, and what they do to suppress their fears.  When we look at what Spirit says in the poem, we can understand that her core issue is fear of God; thus, she adopted the Puritan beliefs in order to go to Heaven. On the other hand, Flesh is just opposite of Spirit. She displays everything that is against fear of God. This can also be interpreted to be an avoidance as her defense mechanism, since she tries to avoid any religious thoughts and want to enjoy all earthly pleasures.

To sum up, this essay tried to analyze the poem titled The Flesh and the Spirit by Anne Bradstreet with 5 literary criticisms. With the Marxist Criticism, we looked at the era’s economic conditions and tried to reflect Bradstreet’s colony’s world-view for the economic matters in her poem’s verses. Using the Feminist Criticism, we tried to explain how Bradstreet broke the man-dominated society and used her female characters to discuss religious matters. With New Criticism, we tried to show figures of speech and what the poem’s form means. Reader-response Criticism was used to explain what the author of this paper understood from the poem. And finally, with the Psychoanalytic Criticism, we tried to identify characters’ core issues and their defense mechanisms.


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