On Being Brought from Africa to America

by Phillis Wheatley

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Within "On Being Brought from Africa to America," what literary terms does Wheatley use (similes, metaphors, hyperboles, etc)?

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The poem, "On Being Brought from Africa to America" by Wheatly is very brief yet full of meaning. First of all, it is written in heroic couplets, which means it has rhyming lines in iambic pentameter in this eight line verse. The theme is slavery, as the speaker is coming from Africa and Christianity.

In line one, "Pagan land" is a metaphor for Africa, mentioned somewhat ironically—she calls Africa pagan, yet it is the Christians who enslave her. We do not think of slavery as a Christian concept. Furthermore, "sable race" describes the Africans and likens them to the devil, "diabolic die." Again, this irony shows the Africans being described as evil merely because of their skin color. Lastly, the metaphor of the "angelic train," that train being heaven, is used in opposition of the "diabolic die," as the Africans have the right to gain heaven just as the Whites.

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Wheatley uses a simile in line seven when she refers to the Negros being black as Cain...Cain was marked by God which some believe was a mark of blackness...He was fleeing for his life after he killed Able; therefore, God marked him so no one would know who he was...

'Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land,
Taught my benighted soul to understand
That there's a God, that there's a Saviour too:
Once I redemption neither sought nor knew.
Some view our sable race with scornful eye,
"Their colour is a diabolic die."
Remember, ChristiansNegros, black as Cain,
May be refin'd, and join th' angelic train.

In line two, she uses a metaphor in that her soul is darkened or "benighted. She is expressing a comparison to he soul being black or unenlightened.

In line six, she is using hyperbole in that her race "is a diabolic die." Diabolic refers to Satan or the Devil...this exaggeration would be that her race has been colored by the Devil...

In line seven, she uses a metaphor in describing the train as angelic...this would be a reference to a heavenly train that takes a person to eternal bliss...

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