In her poem the Prologue, Anne Bradstreet sharply criticizes the male world for its unjust prejudice and hostility against the female world and female creativity. In order to criticize the male world, Anne Bradstreet uses such literary devices as irony and sarcasm. The tone of Anne is ironic throughout the poem. Her approach seems to be very polite but behind this polite attitude there lies a biting as well as pointed attack towards the male world. She uses many understatements which are also the mark of her ironic politeness.
In the opening stanza she uses the understatement ‘mean pen’ to indicate her ability. It’s very ironic that she tells us about her inability, though we know that she was the first American woman poet who wrote some finest lyrics. Throughout the first three stanzas, she uses other ironic remarks. She compares herself with the ‘school boys’ and says that her inability is inborn and irreparable.
My foolish, broken, blemished Muse so sings,
And this to mend, alas, no Art is able,
'Cause Nature made it so irreparable.
Though she degrades her position by comparing herself with the school boy, we know that she read Shakespeare, Sir Walter Raleigh and Cervantes. So, it is another example of her ironic politeness.
In the fourth stanza, she contrasts herself with Demosthenes and says that her inability cannot be cured as it is by nature weak and wounded.
Art can do much, but this maxim’s most sure
A weak and wounded brain admits no cure.
Here she directs her attack to the prejudice of the male world that women are by nature ‘weak’. So, she criticized the male prejudice by this polite remark. But in the fifth stanza her criticism becomes open and direct. Here she uses sarcasm in order to criticize the hostility of the male world. She uses such censuring remarks as ‘carping tongue,’ Obnoxious’ in order to show the hostility of the male world. She opines that the male world tries to degrade her position in several ways. According to her, the male world degrades and devalues the female creativity. She unmasks this discrimination of the male world in a sarcastic way.
She also uses other sarcastic remarks such as she calls the male members of her society as Greek. Her ironic approach reaches to the point of climax in the last stanzas. Here she uses such hyperbolic expressions as precedence, ‘excel’, ‘preeminence’ etc in order to glorify the so-called superiority of the male world. Actually the male members of the society use these words to signify their position. Anne Bradstreet echoes these words but her tone is very ironic.
In the last stanza she again uses some sarcastic remarks such as ‘Flown quills, “ your prey still catch your praise,” ‘lowly lines’ and ‘glistering gold’ etc in order to show the self glorifying and self satisfying mentality of the male persons of her society. She also uses such expressions as ‘mean’ and ‘unrefined’ ore in order to show her humbleness. She says that her work is unrefined ore, but we know that as a poetess she is not without skills. So, her ironic degradation actually heightens her position to our eyes.
Thus, we see that Anne Bradstreet uses the ironic and sarcastic remarks throughout the poem in order to criticize the male prejudice and male attitude towards the female world and female creativity.