Phillis Wheatley overcame extreme obstacles, such as racism and sexism, to become one of the most acclaimed poets in the 18th Century. Her works are characterized by religious and moral backgrounds, which are due to the extensive education of religion she received. In this sense, her poems also fit into American Poetry. However, she differs in the way that she is a black woman whose writings tackle greater subjects while incorporating her moral standpoint. By developing her writing, she began speaking out against injustices that she faced and, consequently, gave way to authors such as Gwendolyn Brooks and Countee Cullen.
On July 11, 1761, a slave ship from Fula, West Africa docked in Boston, Massachusetts (Weidt 7). John Wheatley, a wealthy merchant and a tailor, and his wife, Susanna, were at the auction searching for younger, more capable slaves (Weidt 9). Among those chosen, they picked a cheaply priced girl, estimated by her missing front teeth to be about seven or eight years old (Weidt 7). She was also chosen because Susanna felt sorry for her, probably because she was so emaciated (Weidt 9). Because the little girl had no identity, as it was left behind in West Africa, the Wheatleys needed to name her. Like all slave owners, they gave the young girl their last name (Weidt 10). Her first name came from the ship she was on, Phillis, which was owned by Timothy Fitch (Mason 3).
As time passed, Phillis was considered more like a part of the family than a slave. Phillis received an extensive education, which was comparable to that of a wealthy white man (Mason 4). Mary, the Wheatley's daughter, was an aspiring teacher and taught the Arabic-speaking girl English and ...
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...t social injustices (Weidt 53). Because of her quest for freedom, she gave way to writers such as Gwendolyn Brooks and Countee Cullen. Countee Cullen wrote "Heritage," which mixes themes of freedom, Africa, and religion. It can be said, then, that he gave way to writers such as Gwendolyn Brooks wrote "Negro Hero," which is about the status of the African American during the 1940s. Clearly, these poets followed the first steps taken by Phillis Wheatley towards speaking out against social issues, and today's poetry is a result of the continuation to speak out against them
"Elegy". The American Heritage Dictionary. 3rd ed. 1992.
Mason, Jr., Julian D. The Poems of Phillis Wheatley. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1989.
Weidt, Maryann N. Revolutionary Poet: A Story About Phillis Wheatley. Minneapolis:
Carolrhoda Books, 1997.
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