Document Type

Honors Project

Publication Date

Spring 2014


Lucy Larcom, Frances Harper and Sarah Piatt used poetry, frequently under veils of sentimentality (or dramatic, emotional expression), to offer social critiques, particularly examining and challenging the positions on nineteenth-century American women. Through their representations of oppressed women who are like and unlike themselves, the poets attempt to uphold women’s individual characteristics in an inclusive way, encouraging readers to connect with the female subjects and recognize community in order to counter social judgment that marginalized women. My first chapter challenges simplified readings of Larcom’s poetry, arguing that Larcom subtly struggles with social expectations and promotes women’s individuality. Harper uses her understanding of oppressive positions, learned from her personal exposure to them through her access to the public sphere, to defend oppressed women. Finally, Piatt’s position between North and South, fairyland and reality, and her experiences of nostalgia and ambivalence shape her poetic representations of oppressed female subjects. It is critical to reread poems that critics have traditionally labeled as merely “sentimental.” Critics continue to “type cast” poets and mistake subtly political poems as simplistically straightforward. This study is one step in understanding poetic interpretations of and retaliations against American women’s oppression.

Level of Honors

magna cum laude




Karen Hoffmann