Phillis Wheatley Essay: Introduction
Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784) was one of the United States’ most influential writers, and he is the first African-American that published a poetry book.Hook: Start your essay by introducing the author in a striking way. Her most known poem, “On Being Brought from Africa to America” is the writing of Wheatley’s own experiences as an African American woman brought from her home country to America and sold as a slave. In this poem, she implies being brought to the United States is God’s gift, as it enabled her to be a Christian. Another work of her, “A Hymn to the Evening” is where she shows her admiration for God. She symbolizes this love by sunset.Background:Give some examples of the works of the author to get the reader familiar with them. In both works, she emerges slavery with the love of God. It is evident that Wheatley sees slavery as a cause for her beliefs, of which she is significantly thankful. But she condemns slavery by her spiritual writings.Thesis statement:Explain your central argument about the writer and state your main point about their works.
In “On Being Brought from Africa to America”, Wheatley implies that the reason she became a Christian is her enslavement.Topic sentence: This sentence briefly explains the main focus of the paragraph, so mention the main argument you will talk about. She starts by saying, “‘Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land / Taught my benighted soul to understand” (Wheatley 18).Reference: Quote from the work you are analyzing to refer the reader to the original script, this will help them understand the argument better.In these first lines, the use of the word “mercy” indicates that being enslaved is the exact reason for her salvation. Due to her enslavement, she was able to learn about God and Christianity. Colonists’ horrible attempts to enserf did not work; in fact, those attempts liberated her soul. She emphasizes Christ’s redemptive imprisonment over her own purgation by sorrow (Harris).Interpretation:Take the quote you used and interpret it to give insights to the reader, make sure to use your own words while analyzing the quote.
The following two lines emphasize her redemption and the way she was able to learn about Christianity.Topic sentence: This sentence, once again, briefly explains the main focus of the paragraph, so mention the main argument you will talk about. “That there’s a God, that there’s a Saviour too / Once I redemption neither sought nor knew.” (Wheatley 18). She states that she understood there is a god after she was brought to the United States. The irony here is that she learned about religion and God by the hands of slavery, an evil power.
However, she was still a slave in this world. Therefore, the abovementioned lines do not indicate any justification for the constitution of slavery.Topic sentence: This sentence, once again, briefly explains the main focus of the paragraph, so mention the main argument you will talk about. By using irony, she manages to imply her revulsion against slavery. She says, “Some view our sable race with scornful eye, / Their color is a diabolic die” (Wheatley 18). She compares her thoughts and the thoughts of racists. For her, it was about something immaterial. However, in the eyes of slavery, “their color”, a physical attribute, was enough to make someone sinful. There are other implications that this part of the poem reminds us of the material considerations of the racists. Wheatley chooses to use “sable” and “eye”, which makes these lines more focused on a person’s physical features. It is a direct change from the first part of the poem. Watson comments about these lines: “Wheatley’s speaker turns from a meditation upon the incorporeal soul to take on a historical, racialized body.” (123).
The last two lines of the poem address colonists. Wheatley writes, “Remember, Christians, Negros, black as Cain, / May be refin’d, and join the angelic train” (18).Topic sentence: This sentence, once again, briefly explains the main focus of the paragraph, so mention the main argument you will talk about. She reminds those who believe black people are beyond salvation, that all people need to be “refin’d and join th’,” regardless of their race. Their black skin color does not keep them from becoming a part of the “angelic train,” which is thought to be only possible for evangelists. Light or darkness, a fundamentally and essentially different type of light or darkness that can be understood on earth, has some real spiritual or aesthetic clarity only after the human experience has been “refined” into “the’ angelic” or divine (Levernier).
In terms of literary devices, it can be said that this poem brilliantly uses them.Topic sentence: This sentence, once again, briefly explains the main focus of the paragraph, so mention the main argument you will talk about. For example, in the last two lines, Wheatley says “Cain” and “refin’d” which is a pun for refined cane sugar. She implies the industry and the order from which her people suffer. Back in her time, the sugar cane industry was significantly responsible for slavery. Also, most of the slave black people were working in sugar refineries. There is another pun that Wheatley implies institutions that support slavery. “Die” is a pun for “dye,” and it is clear as she uses “die” along with “color.” The purchasing of a commodity, including dyes and sugar cane, contributed to the evils of slavery, both specifically through the capturing of slaves and indirectly through the forced labor of slaves in fields (Levernier).
The second work of Wheatley that shows apparent gratitude to her belief system is “A Hymn to the Evening.”Topic sentence: This sentence, once again, briefly explains the main focus of the paragraph, so mention the main argument you will talk about. Being one of her well-known poems, she expresses her dedication to God. Just by its title, the poem reveals that it is written for God himself. The word “Hymn” is used for any religious work, usually a song, but in this case, the poem. “Evening” can be seen as a symbol of the creator’s beauty and power.
In the first four lines, she writes, “Soon as the sun forsook the eastern main / The pealing thunder shook the heav’nly plain; / Majestic grandeur! From the zephyr’s wing, / Exhales the incense of the blooming spring” (Wheatley lines 1-4).Topic sentence: This sentence, once again, briefly explains the main focus of the paragraph, so mention the main argument you will talk about. The pastoral elements in these lines indicate God’s creation and nature. Wheatley describes a beautiful sunset, which “shooks the heav’nly plain;” resulting from its beauty. The word “Majestic grandeur!” is dominant in the stanza. It is her way of illustrating God’s power. Wheatley faced evangelicals in their beloved religious sphere in the eighteenth century (O’Neal). She used the biblical words of evangelists in a world where people thought Christianity should only be expressed by whites.
In the second stanza, which is shorter than any other, Wheatley implies there is more to God’s creation than people see on the earth.Topic sentence: This sentence, once again, briefly explains the main focus of the paragraph, so mention the main argument you will talk about. “Through all the heav’ns what beauteous dies are spread! / But the west glories in the deepest red: / So may our breasts with ev’ry virtue glow, / The living temples of our God below!” (Wheatley, lines 7-10). Wheatley admires the beauty of the “dies,” which is used to indicate the colors of the earth. But she also implies there are more; this picture is just an indicator of what lies ahead. Wheatley reminds her readers that the glow of virtue that fills their hearts is just a glimpse of the far greater illumination that comes from God (Cengage Learning Gale).
In the third stanza, the writer wants to show her gratitude and serve God. “Fill’d with the praise of him who gives the light” (Wheatley line 11).Topic sentence: This sentence, once again, briefly explains the main focus of the paragraph, so mention the main argument you will talk about. The first line of the stanza denotes that the writer preaches God for his beauty and power. “And draws the sable curtains of the night” (Wheatley line 12). This second line continues by saying that God can also take away the light. By using the word “sable” when referring to the night is her way of saying that both the light (white) and the sable (black) are equally beautiful because God creates both.
Finally, the last two lines of the third stanza show the result of preaching. Topic sentence: This sentence, once again, briefly explains the main focus of the paragraph, so mention the main argument you will talk about. “So shall the labors of the day begin / More pure, more guarded from the snares of sin.” (Wheatley lines 15-16). “Labours of the day” can be taken as an indication of her daily chores as a slave. But her labor is not significant anymore as it is material, but it is now “purer and more guarded,” thanks to her love of God.
In conclusion, Phillis Wheatley was the first African American poet who managed to publish her book. Opening sentence: This is your chance to make your conclusion memorable, so start with the most important achievement of your subject. In most of her works, one can see that she continuously combines religion and slavery. For her, it was through slavery that she was able to learn about God. But she does not rationalize slavery based on this fact; she uses her biblical style to denounce slavery. Summarized analysis: State your reasoning for your analysis, refer to the works of the writer so it makes more sense. She implies that everything and everyone on the earth is from God himself, and all are equal. She turns a cruel constitution into a beautiful result for immaterialistic freedom and salvation. Interpretation: Once again, interpret the last sentence and explain the intention of the writer, make sure to relate this sentence to the quotes you used. Wheatley clearly views slavery as a source for her beliefs, for which she is grateful. But also, her religious writings condemn slavery. Restatement: Conclude your essay by restating your central argument and finalizing your comments on the subject.
Harris, Will. “Phillis Wheatley, Diaspora Subjectivity, and the African American Canon.” MELUS, vol. 33, no. 3, 2008, pp. 27–43, www.jstor.org/stable/20343489. Accessed 28 Apr. 2021.
Levernier, James A. “Style as Protest in the Poetry of Phillis Wheatley.” Style, vol. 27, no. 2, 1993, pp. 172–193, www.jstor.org/stable/42946037. Accessed 28 Apr. 2021.
O’Neale, Sondra. “A Slave’s Subtle War: Phillis Wheatley’s Use of Biblical Myth and Symbol.” Early American Literature, vol. 21, no. 2, 1986, pp. 144–165, www.jstor.org/stable/25056621. Accessed 28 Apr. 2021.
Watson, Marsha. “A Classic Case: Phillis Wheatley and Her Poetry.” Early American Literature, vol. 31, no. 2, 1996, pp. 103–132, www.jstor.org/stable/25057046. Accessed 28 Apr. 2021.
Wheatley, Phillis. “A Hymn to the Evening.” Poetry Foundation, 2019.
—. Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral (Classic Reprint). 1773. Adansonia Publishing, 2016, p. 18.