Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts



First Advisor

Gordon Van Ness, III, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Craig C. Challender, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Ellery Sedgwick, Ph.D.


Critics including Alicia Ostriker and Diana Hume George believe Anne Sexton's poetic quest for God to be a failure. Ostriker asserts that Sexton's pursuit of a loving God in whom she can have faith ends merely as "a heroic failure." Her statement echoes George's description of the "pathetic end of Anne Sexton's quest for the Father." These critics view Sexton's quest through the perspective of orthodox Christianity's patriarchal system. However, while sexton seeks a Father figure who will not oppress her but rather save her from self destruction, she redefines her "religion" and God to include women. She merges with Jesus in Live or Die to become a female Christ-figure endowed with the miraculous abilities attributed to the Son of God as a means of finding God. sexton successfully finds her God in The Awful Rowing Towards God, exulting in her triumph.

Sexton 's quest is divided into three major stages. Chapter one of this study details the beginning of her quest in her book, To Bedlam and Part Way Back (1960), when she attributes God's omnipotence to her psychiatrist, Dr. Martin Orne. She seeks salvation from her suicidal tendencies, believing Dr. Orne can "save" her from this sin. Chapter Two describes both Sexton's mergence with Christ in her attempts to gain and understand the spiritual and her first creation of a female deity. Her books, All My Pretty Ones (1962) and Live or Die (1966) show the development of Sexton's becoming Christ and using His abilities to save life and stall death. However, in The Book of Folly (1972), sexton examines Christ, not as a persona, but as a fable's character and she rejects Him because of His masculinity and humanity. The fleshly Christ is a man, sexual and violent in His actions, not the traditional peaceful figure who symbolizes Heavenly calm. Chapter Three details the quest's final stage in The Awful Rowing Towards God (1975) in which sexton successfully finds her God. Although she makes Him to be flesh, she does not approach Him as one of her lovers with seductive intentions . on the contrary, she entrusts her life and destiny to Him and revels in this form of faith. The Conclusion reveals what critical studies remain necessary for a full understanding of the complexity of Sexton's religious search.



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