US History (General)

Start Free Trial

Editor's Choice

Compare and contrast Phyllis Wheatley and Benjamin Franklin.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Phyllis Wheatley was the first African American published poet, and was a slave who received a high level of education for that time. Though she died early, she made many contributions to poetry and is highly regarded for her work.

Benjamin Franklin was a contemporary of hers: a scientific genius, inventor, businessman, and writer. While their lives differ greatly in that he was a white, long-lived, and well-established statesman, while she was a black woman who died at the age of 31 with little or nothing to her name, they have some similarities.

Most notably, they were pioneers in their fields—him in science, invention, and electricity, and her in literature and poetry. They both made incredible contributions to their fields of work, and they were also both renowned writers. In spite of their differences, and the circumstances surrounding each individual, they were both intellectual giants who made major strides for their respective fields. It is a shame that Phyllis Wheatley died so young and wasn't offered more education, as she could have contributed even more.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The contrast between the lives of Benjamin Franklin and Phillis Wheatley are profound, but there are also some similarities. As a child, Wheatley was kidnapped from her home in West Africa and sold into slavery in North America. She lived in Boston with the Wheatley family and became literate through their teaching. She was emancipated in 1773.

Benjamin Franklin was born in Boston and lived there in relative poverty; he was forced into indentured servitude to his older brother before freeing himself by moving to Philadelphia and seeking his own fortune in printing and publishing. Though he received some formal education as a child, he was largely self-taught.

Both Wheatley and Franklin are noted for their writing; Wheatley was a poet and writer of letters in support of emancipation and the American Revolution. Franklin was a journalist, essayist, autobiographer, and leader of the Revolution through his foreign diplomacy and membership in the Continental Congress.

Wheatley died at the age of 31, impoverished after the imprisonment of her husband for debt. Franklin enjoyed immense wealth and lived to be 84.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Benjamin Franklin was a internationally-renowned scientist and philosopher (there was really no distinction between the two at the time). He was acknowledged as a leader among the American revolutionary generation. He was present when independence was declared, represented the new nation in France, where he helped negotiate decisive French military aid in the war, and later was present at the Philadelphia Convention that wrote the United States Constitution. The life of Phyllis Wheatley was very different. She was born in West Africa, where she was kidnapped and sold into slavery. Like Franklin, however, she was educated (mostly self-educated) at a young age, and like Franklin, she spent her early years in Boston. Also like Franklin, her talents were discovered by influential patrons at a relatively young age, and quickly became recognized (at least by some--Thomas Jefferson made his contempt for her poetry known) as a genius. Wheatley enjoyed neither of the advantages of race and gender that Franklin did, however, and died in poverty at a young age not long after producing her famous book of poetry.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial