She proved … For Wheatley's management of the concept of refinement is doubly nuanced in her poem. Wheatley may also cleverly suggest that the slaves' affliction includes their work in making dyes and in refining sugarcane (Levernier, "Wheatley's"), but in any event her biblical allusion subtly validates her argument against those individuals who attribute the notion of a "diabolic die" to Africans only. Her strategy relies on images, references, and a narrative position that would have been strikingly familiar to her audience. If she had left out the reference to Cain, the poem would simply be asserting that black people, too, can be saved. She belonged to a revolutionary family and their circle, and although she had English friends, when the Revolution began, she was on the side of the colonists, reflecting, of course, on the hope of future liberty for her fellow slaves as well. THEMES She did light housework because of her frailty and often visited and conversed in the social circles of Boston, the pride of her masters. They include history, religion, salvation, and slavery. The first episode in a special series on the women’s movement. Her poems thus typically move dramatically in the same direction, from an extreme point of sadness (here, the darkness of the lost soul and the outcast, Cain) to the certainty of the saved joining the angelic host (regardless of the color of their skin). Through the argument that she and others of her race can be saved, Wheatley slyly establishes that blacks are equal to whites. Such couplets were usually closed and full sentences, with parallel structure for both halves. She returned to America riding on that success and was set free by the Wheatleys—a mixed blessing, since it meant she had to support herself. The poem describes Wheatley's experience as a young girl who was enslaved and brought to the American colonies in 1761. Although she was captured and violently brought across the ocean from the west shores of Africa in a slave boat, a frail and naked child of seven or eight, and nearly dead by the time she arrived in Boston, Wheatley actually hails God's kindness for his delivering her from a heathen land. It was derived from the ship that brought the little girl to America. Through her rhetoric of performed ideology, Wheatley revises the implied meaning of the word Christian to include African Americans. The speaker's declared salvation and the righteous anger that seems barely contained in her "reprimand" in the penultimate line are reminiscent of the rhetoric of revivalist preachers. In effect, both poems serve as litmus tests for true Christianity while purporting to affirm her redemption. "Their colour is a diabolic die.". Davis, Arthur P., "The Personal Elements in the Poetry of Phillis Wheatley," in Critical Essays on Phillis Wheatley, edited by William H. Robinson, G. K. Hall, 1982, p. 95. POEM TEXT In the first line of the poem, she says, “Twas mercy brought me from my pagan land” (Jamison 408). She separates herself from the audience of white readers as a black person, calling attention to the difference. … Wheatley's cultural awareness is even more evident in the poem "On Being Brought From Africa to America," written the year after the Harvard poem in 1768. Both well-known and unknown writers are represented through biography, journals, essays, poems, and fiction. On being brought from Africa to America. In short, both races share a common heritage of Cain-like barbaric and criminal blackness, a "benighted soul," to which the poet refers in the second line of her poem. Indeed, at the time, blacks were thought to be spiritually evil and thus incapable of salvation because of their skin color. As such, reading the poem reveals that unity is possible in modern society. She displays talent and intelligence in her writings. Like them (the line seems to suggest), "Once I redemption neither sought nor knew" (4; my emphasis). The words are listed in the order in which they appear in the poem. The compositions published under her name are below the dignity of criticism." By writing the poem in couplets, Wheatley helps the reader assimilate one idea at a time. Skin color, Wheatley asserts, has nothing to do with evil or salvation. Clifton, Lucille 1936– 24, 27-31, 33, 36, 42-43, 47. In fact, the whole thrust of the poem is to prove the paradox that in being enslaved, she was set free in a spiritual sense. Considering that this poem was written in the 18th century, it is clear that world unity has never been attained in the modern world. This style of poetry hardly appeals today because poets adhering to it strove to be objective and used elaborate and decorous language thought to be elevated. Following her previous rhetorical clues, the only ones who can accept the title of "Christian" are those who have made the decision not to be part of the "some" and to admit that "Negroes … / May be refin'd and join th' angelic train" (7-8). In "On Being Brought from Africa to America," Wheatley asserts religious freedom as an issue of primary importance. Slavery did not become illegal after the Revolution as many had hoped; it was not fully abolished in the United States until the end of the Civil War in 1865. One may wonder, then, why she would be glad to be in such a country that rejects her people. Here she mentions nothing about having been free in Africa while now being enslaved in America. On Being Brought From Africa to America is an unusual poem because it was written by a black woman who was a slave back in the days when black people could be bought and sold at will by white owners. Some view our sable race with scornful eye. Once again, Wheatley co-opts the rhetoric of the other. Rigsby, Gregory, "Form and Content in Phillis Wheatley's Elegies," in College Language Association Journal, Vol. Illustrated Works This view sees the slave girl as completely brainwashed by the colonial captors and made to confess her inferiority in order to be accepted. Understanding the poem helps one appreciate the place of slavery in American and world history. Gates, Henry Louis, Jr., "Phillis Wheatley and the Nature of the Negro," in Critical Essays on Phillis Wheatley, edited by William H. Robinson, G. K. Hall, 1982, pp. She spent her childhood years with a wealthy Boston family. She was planning a second volume of poems, dedicated to Benjamin Franklin, when the Revolutionary War broke out. And, as we have seen, Wheatley claims that this angel-like following will be composed of the progeny of Cain that has been refined, made spiritually bright and pure. Many readers today are offended by this line as making Africans sound too dull or brainwashed by religion to realize the severity of their plight in America. A sensation in her own day, Wheatley was all but forgotten until scrutinized under the lens of African American studies in the twentieth century. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list. Wheatley, however, applies the doctrine of salvation in an unusual way for most of her readers; she broadens it into a political or sociological discussion as well. During the war in Iraq, black recruitment falls off, in part due to the many more civil career options open to young blacks. ." The scenario shows how Africans are associated with various negativities. 27, 1992, pp. Both races inherit the barbaric blackness of sin. - Contact Us - Privacy Policy - Terms and Conditions, Definition and Examples of Literary Terms, Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood, In Memoriam A. H. H. OBIIT MDCCCXXXIII: 27, Sonnet 55: Not Marble nor the Gilded Monuments, ← 10 Great Metaphors from Popular 1970’s Songs. Does she feel a conflict about these two aspects of herself, or has she found an integrated identity? She had been publishing poems and letters in American newspapers on both religious matters and current topics. The Lord's attendant train is the retinue of the chosen referred to in the preceding allusion to Isaiah in Wheatley's poem. The line in which the reference appears also conflates Christians and Negroes, making the mark of Cain a reference to any who are unredeemed. In Jackson State Review, the African American author and feminist Alice Walker makes a similar remark about her own mother, and about the creative black woman in general: "Whatever rocky soil she landed on, she turned into a garden.". A soul in darkness to Wheatley means someone unconverted. assessments in his edited volume Critical Essays on Phillis Wheatley. Form two groups and hold a debate on the topic. Wheatley, Phillis, Complete Writings, edited by Vincent Carretta, Penguin Books, 2001. Wheatley's identity was therefore somehow bound up with the country's in a visible way, and that is why from that day to this, her case has stood out, placing not only her views on trial but the emerging country's as well, as Gates points out. "On Being Brought from Africa to America On Being Brought from Africa to America Some view our sable race with scornful eye, His poems are published online and in print. Later generations of slaves were born into captivity. In the following essay, Scheick argues that in "On Being Brought from Africa to America," Wheatleyrelies on biblical allusions to erase the difference between the races. Jefferson, a Founding Father and thinker of the new Republic, felt that blacks were too inferior to be citizens. How do her concerns differ or converge with other black authors? In the poem "On Being Brought from Africa to America," Wheatley is stating that she has been redeemed.She has been enlightened as to God's redemptive … Eventually, this development leads to the element of change. That there's a God, that there's a Irony is also common in neoclassical poetry, with the building up and then breaking down of expectations, and this occurs in lines 7 and 8. Ironically, this authorization occurs through the agency of a black female slave. Indeed, racial issues in Wheatley's day were of primary importance as the new nation sought to shape its identity. She notes that the black skin color is thought to represent a connection to the devil. "The Privileged and Impoverished Life of Phillis Wheatley" Her praise of these people and what they stood for was printed in the newspapers, making her voice part of the public forum in America. Susanna Wheatley, her mistress, became a second mother to her, and Wheatley adopted her mistress's religion as her own, thus winning praise in the Boston of her day as being both an intelligent and spiritual being. She was baptized a Christian and began publishing her own poetry in her early teens. For example, she changed her name, religion, and attitude towards life. The black race itself was thought to stem from the murderer and outcast Cain, of the Bible. The speaker takes the high moral ground and is not bitter or resentful - rather the voice is calm and grateful. Not many people are capable of handling that much change. 215-33. Some readers, looking for protests against slavery in her work, have been disenchanted upon instead finding poems like "On Being Brought from Africa to America" to reveal a meek acceptance of her slave fate. They have become, within the parameters of the poem at least, what they once abhorred—benighted, ignorant, lost in moral darkness, unenlightened—because they are unable to accept the redemption of Africans. The elegy usually has several parts, such as praising the dead, picturing them in heaven, and consoling the mourner with religious meditations. God punished him with the fugitive and vagabond and yieldless crop curse. She wrote them for people she knew and for prominent figures, such as for George Whitefield, the Methodist minister, the elegy that made her famous. The "authentic" Christian is the one who "gets" the puns and double entendres and ironies, the one who is able to participate fully in Wheatley's rhetorical performance.

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