Analyzing the Poetry of Phillis Wheatley

812 Words4 Pages
Phillis Wheatley is recognized as the first African American female poet published in America, among many other titles. When she was only seven years old she was brought to America and sold into slavery. Fortunately, her masters did not abuse her; instead they actually cared for her and educated her. Although much of her work is forever lost, some of her published pieces still remain, among them “On Being Brought from Africa to America” and “To the University of Cambridge, in New England”. The former work is a short poem that describes two of her most life-altering experiences: being sold into slavery and becoming redeemed by God. Wheatley, however, views them as one great transformation. The latter work is a poem written to the students…show more content…
Wheatley encountered an extra layer of subordination; in addition to being a slave, she was a woman. In “To the University of Cambridge, in New England”, Wheatley recognizes her low status she refers to herself as an “Ethiop”, intentionally expressing her social inferiority. (421). Nonetheless, continues to offer her opinion of what she believes these young men ought to do without the slightest shame. She shows that she is not humiliated by the aspects of herself that she has no control over, be it her position as a slave or as a female.
Another key aspect of Wheatley’s persona is the pride she has in the color of her skin. She embraces the fact that she is African; in fact, she longed to return to her “pagan land” to help lift the veil of ignorance from it. ("Africa" 420). Taking on the voice of a white person, Wheatley states, ‘Their color is a diabolical dye.’ ("Africa"420). Following a generally accepted excuse for slavery, Blacks originated from Cain when God marked him for murdering Abel. She continues, “Remember, Christians, Negroes, black as Cain,/ may be refined and join the angelic train.” ("Africa"421). Here, Wheatley levels the playing field; God offers everyone the same salvation regardless of any pre-existing conditions. Wheatley may even be going a step further, even though it appears she is telling Christians that Negroes can be cleansed by the blood of Christ. She may also be
Open Document