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Riley Rambo

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Marta Connally

AP English and Language

19 October 2018

 

 Living in a time where women’s equality is still
fought for even at live television shows such as “The Golden Globe Awards”, it
is not farfetched to believe that circumstances were even worse hundreds of
years ago. Unfortunately, the fictional character Polly Baker had to live
through the worst days of discrimination against women. Written in 1747, the
character created by Benjamin Franklin delivered a speech when facing a panel
of judges about a crime she committed. The speech was revolutionary for its
time, as it was the first attempt to acknowledge the double standards women had
to face. Ms. Baker spoke out about the inequalities of women, and applied
various rhetorical questions, exaggerations, and religious appeals.

The application of
rhetorical questions in the speech examine whether or not the laws being made
in the town are valid. When facing her fifth criminal charge for having a child
out of wedlock, she asks the question of, “Is not this a greater Offence
against the Publick Good, than mine?” (351). In doing this, she brings to light
the double standard that occurred in the town she lives in; one of her major points
in the speech. She demonstrated how a man and a woman can commit the same crime,
but only the women would be held accountable for their actions. By doing this
Polly put an effect on the judges by showing how the consequences continue to
echo into their future. It set the precedent that if a man can get away with
this crime, he can commit far worse actions and walk freely of those as well.
She continues with another question about the unfair treatment she is facing. “You
have already excluded

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me from the Comforts of your Church
Communion. Is not that sufficient?” (351). After being excommunicated by her
church she is questioning why she should serve redundant punishments? Unlike
today there was no separation between church and state which establishes how to
punish for sins with several different religions. She was living in the era
where the majority of people all supported the same religious beliefs which did
not establish the strict line between a sin and a criminal offence; causing her
to have to serve multiple punishments.

In accordance to
her punishments, and the double standards, Polly mentions the number of
bachelors in the town. “The great and growing Number of Bachelors in the
Country . . . leave unproduced (which is little better than murder)” (351).Making
this bold statement, Polly introduces an important hyperbole. Although the men
were not anywhere near committing murder, this serves as a way for the guilt to
be shifted from the women, onto the men. Drawing away from the women provides
for Polly to make the point that men are committing a far worse crime than she
is because they are depriving the earth of its natural offspring. Polly is
being criticized for an act that she is supposed to be performing, and the
hyperbole provides the idea that she may not be committing as worse a crime as
the judges once thought. She even goes a step further to take the blame off of
herself and refute the argument that she does not want to get married. The
father of her first child broke off their proposal because of their premarital child,
abandoning her and her unborn baby. Proving her point once again that men are
at a greater fault than she ever was.

Polly speaks about
a higher power throughout her entire speech. The religious appeals she provides
refute the judges claims about the crimes being committed by her. Baker does
admit that she violated a religious law, but claims she upheld a natural law. She
addresses the judges, and the laws they make, “. . . do not turn natural and
useful Actions into Crimes, by your prohibitions” (351). The judges

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are not above God, yet they are
making laws that contradict with what He wants. The laws are causing children
to be unborn even though God wants more offspring on earth. Polly also appeals
to religion when talking about her children. If it was such a sin for Polly to
have illegitimate children, why would god put so much work “. . . in the
formation of their bodies. . .” (351)? The children were civil, and obedient,
and far from being children of the Devil. If God did not want her to have
children before she was married, then he would have stopped it. She now has
placed the blame on God, once again drawing attention away from herself. Therefore,
proving that she is not the only person at fault for the pregnancy.

The fight for
women to be treated, and given the same opportunities as men is now stronger than
ever. For Polly Baker to deliver this speech during a time when men were seen
as a hierarchy was unheard of. Benjamin Franklin depicts a future society when
men and women can be seen as equals instead of an unbalance in genders. The
overall calmness about the speech comes off as respectful, and the choice of
writing in the voice of a woman not only makes women look stronger, but
increases the arguments being made. The speech effectively started a revolution
on how women would be perceived, and caused for anyone hearing the speech to
second guess their views on women’s rights.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Works Cited

Aufses, Robin
Dissin, el al. Conservations in American
Literature: Language, Rhetoric, Culture. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s,
2015.

 

 

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