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On Being Brought from Africa to America Poem by Wheatley

The poem On Being Brought from Africa to America by Phillis Wheatley is a poetic representation of dark period in American history when slave trade was prominent in society. However, despite the horrors of slavery, it is a poem of resilience and strength demonstrated by Wheatley on her journey. In her poem, Wheatley highlights themes of race, when blacks were seen as inhuman, through the lens of religion which has allowed her to seek and find salvation that had given her strength.

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Based on the title of the poem, those familiar with history it becomes evident that the protagonist, which is assumed to be Wheatley herself, is being transferred from Africa to America. It represented a large merchant network or the so known Triangular trade, with one leg sending captured slaves from Africa to the colonies in the Americas. African slaves were oftentimes viewed and treated as virtually inhuman, as represented by the line, “Some view our sable race with scornful eye” (Wheatley 5). She uses imagery to describe the darkness of skin for her race and personification by suggesting that the eye is ‘scornful’ but simply representing the judgment and hate which stemmed from the slave traders. Race is further exacerbated as an issue in the next line, “’Their colour is a diabolic die’” (Wheatley 6). It is partially a reference to religion discussed below, but also the use of alliteration to portray how the Europeans viewed Africans as inhuman, associated with a demonic, ‘Unchristian’ essence, that cannot be anyhow converted or cooperated with.

Religion is another major theme present throughout the poem. The poem begins with a personification of “’Twas mercy brought me” (Wheatley 1). She is referring to the Christian concept of mercy that many believe guides the faithful, and she refers to her homeland as pagan, a realistic description given that Christianity was not well known by Africans until they were captured into slavery. At this point Wheatley goes for 3 lines describing her understanding of her soul and salvation through God. It is evident that Christianity is the core of Wheatley’s belief system and identity. However, at the end, she makes the connection with race. She makes the allusion, ‘black as Cain’ – a biblical figure who committed the first murder and was cursed by God. This is how the Europeans viewed African slaves because of their skin, as essentially sinful by nature, lacking the ability to reach salvation. However, Wheatley strongly disagrees, calling upon her fellow slaves, that regardless of how they are perceived, they can find salvation and redemption through Christianity, as she describes through the use of symbolism of the “angelic train” (Wheatley 8).

Wheatley realizes the desperate situation in which she is placed, but she seeks to find strength through her Christian faith, unfortunately discovered through her abusers. In her faith, she is thankful that she had left her home where Christianity was not known. At the same time, that very same faith gives her the understanding of how wrong her captors are, that despite the color of her skin, Wheatley is a human being and that she is worth of the religious salvation. Based on the poet’s biography, it is also known that she is a living representation that African Americans could climb out of slavery and become refined and well-educated individuals that contribute deeply to culture and society. The very fact that it is possible demonstrates the tremendous power of resilience by Wheatley and many other slaves which have crossed the journey as the poem describes and found the strength to resist the horrific institution of slavery.

Reference

Wheatley, Phillis. “On Being Brought from Africa to America.” Poetry Foundation, 1773. Web.

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StudyCorgi. "On Being Brought from Africa to America Poem by Wheatley." December 31, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/on-being-brought-from-africa-to-america-poem-by-wheatley/.

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StudyCorgi. 2022. "On Being Brought from Africa to America Poem by Wheatley." December 31, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/on-being-brought-from-africa-to-america-poem-by-wheatley/.

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StudyCorgi. (2022) 'On Being Brought from Africa to America Poem by Wheatley'. 31 December.

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