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An Ironic Twist

             The intent of the poets who wrote what we today call slave poetry is as varied as the content they address. Some of the poems transform slavery from a distant incident to a personal trial through a story telling approach while others teach the atrocities of slavery to the masses by simply laying out the facts in a colder manner thereby emphasizing those atrocities. Irony is another way some authors of slave poetry illustrate their points to their audience. Irony is a significant device used by the poets in the slavery poems "On Being Brought from Africa to America," "The Dying Fugitive," and "Middle Passage." .
             "On Being Brought from Africa to America" is a piece from the celebrated African poetess Phillis Wheatley. Wheatley is known for writing poetry with a dominant influence of religious and moral themes. In this poem she uses a highly intelligent and scathing verbal irony. Although it is written in a deceptively mild manner one can catch the hints of Wheatley's sarcasm especially in the last lines of the poem where she says of the majority of whites of that time "Some view our sable race with scornful eye,/"Their colour is a diabolic die."/Remember, Christians, Negros, black as Cain,/May be refin"d, and joined th" angelic train (lines 5-8). Here Wheatley is addressing the attitudes of the whites towards the African slaves and freedmen of that time. She mocks them by stressing that they are "Christians," even though we can see that they do not act in a kind or christianly manner, and then as a further snub tells them that Cain in the bible was black so, therefore, they are not far removed in relations to the very "Negros" that they scorn. She also tells them that though they may not believe it or want to aid them, the Africans can be cultured and more importantly saved through their acceptance of Christ. Wheatley uses verbal irony to point out the hypocrisy of the so called white Christians who judge and condemn the Africans without any thought of actually helping to better them.

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