Judith Sargent Murray. "On the Equality of the Sexes"

  1. Describe how these lines reflect the Enlgihtenment view of the mind. Provide specific examples.
  2. In the first two lines the poet states that it is evident not all minds are the same.
  3. In the bext four lines the poet describes the type of mind that explores the unknown. This is the mind of an educated, enlightened individual. Note the reference to Newton? Who was Newton and what is his contribution to Enlightenment?
  4. "THAT minds are not alike, full well I know,
    This truth each day's experience will show;
    To heights surprising some great spirits soar,
    With inborn strength mysterious depths explore;
    Their eager gaze surveys the path of light,
    Confest it stood to Newton's piercing sight."
  5. Here the poet states that there are some who do not use their mind and who equate the mind with the body. In the first four lines the poet describes a person whose mind is dull, one who does not seek knowledge and does not find pleasure in using the mind.
  6. "But some there are who wish not to improve
    Who never can the path of knowledge love,
    Whose souls almost with the dull body one,
    With anxious care each mental pleasure shun;
  7. In the next six lines the poet continues describing this type of individual. The mind of this individual is "weak", like a vegetable. Alive, but not moving. Recall, according to the Enlightenement philosophy, the mind is a gift from God, and it is given to man so that he can use it to enlighten himself, to get out of darkness. But, some minds are encased in the body and do not make an effort to move, they follow the body wherever it takes it.
  8. Weak is the level'd, enervated mind,
    And but while here to vegetate design'd.
    The torpid spirit mingling with its clod, 
    Can scarcely boast its origin from God;
    Stupidly dull—they move progressing on—
    They eat, and drink, and all their work is done."
  9. Here the poet describes how some use their mind. Others use their mind to seek and discover knowledge, which nature clearly shows to the mind. Recall from your reading on the Enlightenment, that nature is fundamentally rational, and that it can be understood through the use of reason and one's mind.
  10. "While others, emulous of sweet applause,
    Industrious seek for each event a cause,
    Tracing the hidden springs whence knowledge flows,
    Which nature all in beauteous order shows."
  11. The poet questions why should a woman's mind be inferior simply because it is in a woman's body. The poet states that she disagrees with those who who make a distinction between teh two types of mind based on one's gender. It can't be true that the enlightened mind should be ascribed to men, and the dull mind to women. Is the mind of a man superior simply because it is in the body of a man?
  12. "Yet cannot I their sentiments imbibe,
    Who this distinction to the sex ascribe,
    As if a woman's form must needs enrol,
    A weak, a servile, an inferiour soul;"
  13. The poet states that there are men with much inferior minds than any woman.
  14. "And in past times some men have sunk so low,
    That female records nothing less can show."
  15. And yet men, "the lordly sex", ascribe to women inferior minds. The poet blames men for ascribing a weaker mind to women.
  16. But imbecility is still confin'd,
    And by the lordly sex to us consign'd;
  17. In these lines the poet justifies the equality of the sexes, that the mind of a woman is equal to that of any man. Men in many societies, past and present, forbid women to educate themselves, but then blame them for being dull and frivolous.
  18. They rob us of the power t'improve,
    And then declare we only trifles love;
    Yet haste the era, when the world shall know,
    That such distinctions only dwell below;
    The soul unfetter'd, to no sex confin'd,
    Was for the abodes of cloudless day design'd.
    Mean time we emulate their manly fires,
    Though erudition all their thoughts inspires,
    Yet nature with equality imparts
    And noble passions, swell e'en female hearts.