phyllis wheatley

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I strongly disagree with the criticism made by Baraka and others regarding the

works of Phyllis Wheatley. Indeed it would seem that social commentators find it

very easy to criticize writers for their views on many civil issues without

understanding the historical context and social atmosphere of that time. It is

argued that the spirituals, ballads, and other forms of expression for slaves

were often censored. I would then like to insert the argument that the area of

literature in which Wheatley published her works was highly censored since she

was first African American slave to be formally recognized as a writer. As with

the spirituals, work songs, and ballads Wheatley's poems hold subtle but

important messages about her enslaved race, her message of spiritual redemption

parallels the implications of the spirituals.

In Wheatley's poem, "On Being Brought from Africa to America", the similarity

of her writing to the message of the spirituals is apparent in carefully placed

lines throughout the poem. At first glance it would appear that Wheatley is

grateful that she was made a slave, but in closer examination you find the same

solace of spiritual salvation that is sung in the spirituals. "That there's is a

God, that there's a Savior too".(line 3) The promise of a "Savior", a deliverer

or rescuer of people, is the knowledge that Wheatley is grateful to have

learned. Wheatley's poem also identifies the oppression and contempt of being a

slave, "Some view our sable race with scornful eye" and the country's supposed

biblical justification "Negroes, black as Cain". In her poem Wheatley reminds

not only her fellow African American's but Christians as well that all

Christians, black and white, are admitted into heaven.

Wheatley's poems and letters discuss freedom and redemption in a language that

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