Notes on Phillis Wheatley

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Wheatley is arguably one of the most discussed authors of her time. Her success is an accumulation of the many rare circumstances that she was afforded in life. One could argue that it was pure luck that afforded her the opportunity to be educated and published in a society that still supported slavery. Whetleys poetry has been received in many ways over many generations. Some support and understand her point of view while others criticize it and feel that she is a sell out and an Uncle Tom. Whatever ones opinion about her works may be, it is a fact that Phillis Wheatley was talented beyond her years and circumstances. One work that can best articulate the reasoning behind individuals mixed points of view regarding Wheatley is her poem…show more content…
At first glance this poem by Phillis seems a bit off putting, but now that we know her background it will be a little clearer as to why she wrote what she wrote. Perhaps it was because she had conflicting feelings about the institution. In the above poem, it seems as though she praises slavery because it brought her to Christianity. But, in another poem, she wrote that slavery was a cruel fate.

Wheatley begins by crediting her slavery as a positive, because it has brought her to Christianity. While her Christian faith was surely genuine, it was also a "safe" subject for a slave poet. Expressing gratitude for her enslavement may be unexpected but Wheatleys experience was so different that that of many slaves at that time. Her use of the word "benighted" is also interesting: it meaning is "overtaken by night or darkness" or "being in a state of moral or intellectual darkness." Therefore we see Phillis making her skin color and her original state of ignorance of Christian redemption parallel situations. She also uses the phrase "mercy brought me" and the title "on being brought" ; deftly down-playing the violence of the kidnapping of a child and the voyage on a slave ship, so as to not seem a dangerous critic of slavery, but at the same time crediting not the slave trade, but (divine) mercy with the act. This
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