Analysis Of Phillis Wheatley’s Message In The Poem On Being Brought From Africa To America

December 4, 2020 by Essay Writer

Religion, especially Christianity, offers an outlet for Phillis Wheatley to communicate with and influence her audience. Religion was a subject that Wheatley could easily relate to with her audience considering the vast differences between herself and her audience. She was a former slave, a reformed savage saved by god, and they were (her audience aka white Christians of America) elite, superior to Phillis Wheatley in every way. Despite Wheatley’s prominent differences between herself and her audience, she readily embraced and accepted their religion — Christianity — without imparting criticism or emphasizing the hypocrisies within Christianity. Nevertheless, Wheatley’s newfound religion did not deter her from addressing the injustices of slavery within her poem. In “On Being Brought from Africa to America”, Wheatley seeks to promote Christianity whilst, at the same time, accentuating redemption, so as to covertly insinuate the significance of equality and the belief that all African Americans are capable of being saved.

The opening four line of Wheatley’s poem “On Being Brought from Africa to America” affirms the principles of Christianity: “’Twas mercy brought me from my pagan land, Taught my benighted soul to understand that there’s a god, there’s a savior too: Once I redemption neither sought nor knew” (Wheatley). Within these lines, she is accrediting god’s removal of her from her pagan homeland — Africa — a blessing, and a free act of compassion from god himself. Wheatley’s grateful outlook is a modest recognition of the virtues of a Christian county like America. Rather than opening with a firm reproach of slavery, she calls it “mercy brought me from my pagan land” (Wheatley). In addition, she suggests that her discovery of god and savior was what allowed the redemption of her soul. The white society during this time period would have, without a doubt, appreciated and valued her poetry considering Wheatley was openly praising and promoting Christian values. Wheatley merits slavery as having a positive influence on her life because it led to her discovering Christianity; her Christian faith was pure and genuine, yet her faith was the only safe topic Wheatley could broach to interact with her audience. Wheatley using the subject of her faith and religion to relate with her audience allowed her to subtly use a play of the Christian words and language to portray the message she wished to get across without being denounced by white Americans. She utilizes the line “mercy brought me” and the title “On Being Brought” (Wheatley) in order to significantly deemphasize the violence nature in which she was stolen from her home, endured horrendous conditions in her journey to America, and the inhumane manner in which she was sold into slavery. On another note, Wheatley’s choice of words could be interpreted as refuting the power to the whites that captured and enslaved her; she does not yield herself to them but administers all the credit to god.

In the last four lines of “On Being Brought from Africa to America”, Wheatley installs the idea of equality between all races: “Some view our sable race with scornful eye, “their colour is a diabolic die.” Remember Christians, Negroes, black as Cain, May be refin’d, and join th’ angelic train” (Wheatley). The biblical reference of Cain in Wheatley’s poem is utilized to depict a parallel between the racist notion that African Americans are predisposed to being slaves because they are cursed, therefore slavery is justifiable, and that Christianity is a religion of redemption and forgiveness, thus there is no justification for slavery existing. The belief that slaves were the descendants of cursed biblical people is used by Wheatley to emphasize the fact that even if there was a prospect of these people being cursed, it should not result in or be deemed appropriate to enslave the African American race.

Wheatley enunciates her awareness of black struggles in a white-dominated society in this poem. While she believed that god rescued her from sin and perdition by leading her away from her pagan land, she condemned whites for their superficial understanding of spiritual equality. In the line “Their colour diabolic die”, Wheatley indicates that while others affix unfavorable associations to blackness, she would not. Her view was that if the whites were truly Christian at heart, they would not judge others by their color, nor deem an entire race of people as evil because they were born black.

Wheatley has crafted an image of Christianity being the sole force of which she can attribute to her redemption and the eventual redemption of the African American race. Throughout her poem she applied religion and Christianity to relate to her audience but to also incessantly urge for racial equality. Though her writing of the injustices of slavery through her poem is mild, Wheatley is not entirely devoid of racial consciousness and covertly attempts to declare for reform with the use of Christian ideologies to portray the immorality and unchristian way the whites treated African Americans. Wheatley continuously reminded the white Christians about their religious hypocrisy; they were “Christians” that followed certain beliefs, and they did not accept that god viewed everyone as equals, including the African American race whom they had already deemed were beneath them in every aspect. Wheatley was able to put herself in a position to advocate for the African American race by assimilating herself in the religion that played an important role for the white society at that time. 

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