On Being Brought from Africa to America

by Phillis Wheatley

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Does Phillis Wheatley's "On Being Brought from Africa to America" praise her captivity and criticize her origin? Do her other poems continue or contradict this theme?

Quick answer:

Wheatley's poetry is usually Christian in theme and tone. On being brought from Africa to America is somewhat unusual in that it is a poem dealing with her own enslavement and the attitude of most people of European background at that time who would think to exclude black people from salvation.

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Wheatley's poetry as a whole is expressive of her Christianity and devout religious feeling. Often she speaks of death, as in "A Funeral Poem on the Death of C.E., an Infant of Twelve Months," "To a Lady and her Children, on the Death of Her Son and their Brother," and many other poems. Even in poems in which there is not a specific religious theme, she will often make a central point regarding God, as in the final lines of the verses to the Earl of Dartmouth:

May fiery coursers sweep the ethereal plain,
And bear thee upwards to that blest abode,
Where, like the prophet, thou shalt find thy God.

"On being brought from Africa to America" is, therefore, typical of her work in its expression of her devout religious belief and her personal rejoicing in being a Christian.

What is somewhat unusual in the poem, however, is her dealing with the subject of her enslavement and the attitude of most people of European background at that time who would think to exclude black people from salvation: "Some view our sable race with scornful eye." The majority of her poems do not so directly deal with this crucial point. The poem is especially poignant for that reason, because it expresses this central truth about racial prejudice, while at the same time showing Wheatley's own generosity of spirit and willingness to forgive those who have treated people of African origin with such cruelty.

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