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Phillis Wheatley’s Fight Against Slavery Essay

1233 words - 5 pages

Phillis Wheatley is a gem of her time; the first African-American woman to have her poetry published. Though purchased as a slave, her life was far from most African-Americans during the 17th century. She was educated and became deeply rooted in her faith: Christianity. From an outsider, her life may be viewed as an adopted child rather than a slave to the Wheatley family. However, she did not forget where she came from or those less fortunate than herself. Wheatley used the education she was afforded and her new-found spirituality to fight against slavery through the use of words (751). One of the greatest examples of this is her poem “To the University of Cambridge, in New England” ...view middle of the document...

This knowledge is that the Savior died for their sins and awaits their arrival in heaven to “share with Him in the sublimest skies” (19). She continues to warn the students of the repercussions of sin; “transient sweetness turns to endless pain” (29). The phrase “transient sweetness” may refer to the short duration of wealth and prosperity on Earth in contrast to the “endless pain” one might experience in hell for their ill actions. She urges the students to shun “baneful evil to the soul” which she most-likely associates with slavery. Slavery is not only immoral behavior; it literally causes pain and destruction to individuals. She uses the phrase “human race divine” as well as the words pupil and privileged to describe the students’ superiority in society (27). This is important, why does she choose to enlighten the most intelligent group of individuals, many of whom may practice slavery? Perhaps, she chose this particular audience to convey her message because they would have the greatest ability; intelligence, to see the error of slavery and have the status to put an end to it.
Throughout the poem the tone is earnest. Wheatley expresses intense seriousness when she begins to discuss religion and the temptation of sin. For example, she uses phrases such as “suppress the deadly serpent in its egg” and “baneful evil to the soul” to describe the need to stray away from the wickedness of sin (24, 26). These phrases also warn the students. The “deadly serpent in its egg” Wheatley mentions in line 24 urges students to put an end to evil before it can begin. Line 24, as discussed, describes the physical and mental harm slavery causes individuals. She portrays sincerity by contrasting her modest beginnings and her audiences’ privileged lives’. She continues this by holding her “Father of mercy” responsible for bringing her “away from [her native land]” as opposed to blaming those like the students for her captivity (5, 6). Wheatley proceeds to admire the students’ intelligence and opportunities. It seems as if she is humbled in the opening lines of the poem to address such a highly intelligent group of individuals. As the poem progresses, however, her sincerity evolves into deep passion and confidence. At the conclusion of the poem, she earnestly concludes, an Ethiop tells you “[sin is] your greatest foe” (28). This is Wheatley’s final attempt to warn students of the evil; slavery. She is trying to teach them that slavery is an evil sin and if they do not change their ways they will suffer. Though slavery is a convenience on Earth, there...

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