Phillis Wheatley’s “On Being Brought from Africa to America”
Phillis Wheatley was a black slave, born in Africa and brought to America in 1761. She was purchased by a man named John Wheatley and given to his wife as a companion. His wife, Susannah taught Phillis how to read and write out of sympathy and soon after, the intelligent child began to learn Latin. She was surrounded by a Christian family, which influenced many of her writings. She became well known after her first poem about Reverend George Whitefield and soon after she was on her way to England to have her manuscript published. A majority of her writings praised many things, and talked about ideas like Christianity, salvation and history. One of the many writings in her first and only published book was “On Being Brought from Africa to America,” which touches on themes of race, religion, identity, and prejudice.
This poem is weighted with racial tensions in America during the eighteenth century, especially between blacks and whites. During this time of diabolical slavery, it was rare to find any educated woman, much less a black educated woman. “On Being Brought from Africa to America,” is about a massive amount of change; Wheatley went from a setting where there is nothing but people of color to a setting where people of color are the minority, this influences her poem heavily and discusses racial issues. The use of the word “benighted,” in line two of the poem, helps bring this out; being black in a setting of white people is seen as a curse from the point of view of the white majority. The use of the term “diabolic die” in line six refers to some people’s thoughts about African Americans. They looked down upon them as if they had been dyed by the devil. The word “sable” in line five has the definition of the color black or black mourning garments and it is also a dark-colored animal. Through her vivid imagery, Wheatley portrays her race as