Ann Hutchinson’s Agency

While reading the trial scripts of Ann Hutchinson, I was amazed at how obviously gendered Puritan ideologies and cultural scripts were and how the authority seems to manipulate them in order to punish a woman for being a so called “opinionist.”  The introduction paragraph to the trial states that Hutchinson’s main heresies were only a minor focus to the court which “clearly shows the leadership’s anxiety about a woman conducting discussions” (434).  Although this trial is transcribed from an oral account, Hutchinson’s responses to the court’s questions can be seen as a form of “writing back” which allows her to gain a sense of agency against the higher authority of the male Puritan court.  She avoids answering directly the governor’s questions by replying with more specific questions than his blanketing statement of Hutchinson’s opinions being ill-fitting to God and to her sex (435).  It seemed to me that Hutchinson was showing a kind of authoritative intelligence with these responses in order to gain some leverage over her charges.  She assumes the role of the defending lawyer to her own case when she demands to what laws she has broken and questions the grounds on which she is being judged.  As Smith and Watson discuss the ways agency is formed, they emphasize the importance of outside influences on the individual’s sense of will and how that agency is harnessed or geared towards a certain gain such as “changing the terms of one’s social relations” or as a “tactic of resistance,” and both are present in Hutchinson’s defense (S&W 55).  The motive of Hutchinson’s agency in this case is obviously to alter her position within the social relations of Puritan society by defending herself, but also as a means of self-empowerment, and perhaps beyond herself to the empowerment of all Puritan women.  Despite the fact that Hutchinson was excommunicated from the Puritan church on behalf of her opinions and meetings of discussion, her agency within this transcript definitely throws off the male authority of the church, which I see as a gain (even a slight one) for the female Puritan.  The best example of this is seen when she is speaking of the voice and revelation she received, and to Mr. Nowell who questions the credibility of the voice, she responses with an almost slap-in-the-face delivery of “[h]ow did Abraham know that it was God that bid him offer his son, being a breach of the sixth commandment?” (439).  Hutchinson’s agency is strong-willed and that of a devout Christian, regardless of the Puritan scripts that suggested otherwise.

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