Robert Hayden Questions and Answers
by Robert Hayden

Start Your Free Trial

What is "A Letter from Phillis Wheatley" about?

Expert Answers info

David Morrison eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2017

write11,901 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Law and Politics

Among other things, the poem can be interpreted as a mordant critique of race relations in America. It says a lot about how African Americans, like Phillis Wheatley, are treated that they have to travel 3,000 miles to achieve any kind of respect (even a qualified one) from white people. In America, Wheatley just a former slave, but in England, she's a celebrated poet, revered by the literati and the aristocracy. Another layer of irony is that Phillis Wheatley, a self-proclaimed patriot, can only gain some measure of respect in a country which will soon be at war with the American colonies.

Moreover, her journey across the Atlantic to England is noticeably uneventful; it's certainly a good deal more pleasant than the horrendous voyage she was forced to endure when first brought to America as a slave. Again, this reinforces the message that Phillis can only be treated as a normal human being while traveling away from America, the country to which she's formed such a patriotic attachment.

Further Reading:

check Approved by eNotes Editorial

Jay Gilbert, Ph.D. eNotes educator | Certified Educator

briefcaseCollege Lecturer

bookB.A. from University of Oxford

bookM.A. from University of Oxford

bookPh.D. from University of Leicester


calendarEducator since 2017

write2,289 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Law and Politics

In...

(The entire section contains 3 answers and 656 words.)

Unlock This Answer Now


check Approved by eNotes Editorial

gbeatty eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2007

write2,654 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Science