Phillis Wheatlay Analysis

Phillis Wheatlay was born about 1753-1754 in Africa, most probably in Senegal. She was sold into slavery at the age of eight. She was brought to America and John Wheatley bought her. He brought her to his house and she got the sir name of the Wheatley family as was custom during this period. She was brought up as a member of this family. The wheatney family taught her classical literature and Christianity. Phillis was privileged because the family she lived with treated her well, slightly above the normal treatments that the ordinary slave gets. She therefore did not share the experiences of other slaves

It is true that most of her poems speak to whites. Her poems speak of prominent men like George Whitefield, George Washington. Others reflect her religion and Christian salvation.

They do not address fellow slaves or speak out for their cause. She did not include the theme of racial inequality in her poems. Her poems do not speak about the injustice that slaves were going through during the period of slavery or her own situation. This is largely because in her state as slave, there was no way she could express herself freely (Emory, P. 1750). Phillis Wheatlay could not criticize slavery in her role as a slave. One of her poems ''one being brought from Africa to America'', can be analyzed in trying to understand her views about enslavement. The eight lines in this poem describe her attitudes towards slavery. She begins by praising her condition since it has enabled her to learn about Christianity. She has not focused on the mistreatment that slaves went through like violence when being kidnapped and the voyage to unknown place but thanks the divine for this act. She down plays the critical view of slavery and directs the reader to the positive aspects of enslavement. She uses words like sable to describe her color meaning that her skin is valuable and desirable.


This implies one who is only interested in the positive aspects of things. Even when her race is looked down, she still nudges the reader to positive of the race. Her conclusion is a reminder to all Negros that they too can be saved. She has thus taken the role of a preacher. From these few observations, I can conclude that Phillis Wheatley has been wrongfully vilified by modern blacks for her views on slavery. One, her failure to use poetry to speak out against slavery is due to her role at the time she was writing these poems. Even though she had some special privileges, she was still a slave (Lasky, 89). How can you criticize slavery when you are still operating under a master who has given you special treatment? It is simply impossible. Secondly, through slavery she came to know Christ. She was genuinely converted to Christianity.

She began to focus more on the positive aspects of slavery. Instead of criticizing slavery, she praises it because of the benefits she has enjoyed through it. Anybody in her place could have done the same. Thirdly, Phillis Wheatlay had good masters who embraced her in their family and educated her. She had not gone through the harsh treatment her fellow slaves were going through. She might have been aware, but she did not experience the suffering directly. Thus, she could not air their feelings adequately. For her, everything about life changed after salvation. She became more interested in enlightening fellow slaves about Christ. This might have been making more sense to her than to fight for their cause. Finally, it cannot be right for us to base all our arguments on one poem. We cannot pick this single poem and use it to judge her attitude towards slavery. Therefore, Phillis Wheatlay Does not deserve the opprobrium of her race.



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