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Phillis Wheately Paper

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Phillis Wheatley's work presents an excellent example of the triumph of optimism over experience.

Who is Phillis Wheatley? That is what I asked myself upon learning of a reading assignment. We were assigned to read Phillis Wheatley's poem "On being brought from Africa to America". Prior to reading the poem I decided to research the life of Phillis Wheatley. I did this so that I could have a better understanding of what I was about to read. This is why I imagine one of her poems was chosen for reading in our Stories of Immigration course.

In the next few sentences I will share with you some of Wheatley's experience in America. You will discover some of the hardships Wheatley faced. I ask that as you read and think of the experiences that are being described, place yourself in Wheatley's shoes. What would you do? How would you feel? Would you choose to live a life of optimism or pessimism? Phillis Wheatley was kidnapped at a young age; stripped from the arms of her mother, taken away from the only land that she knew. We all have heard of the dreadful voyage from the west coast of Africa to the eastern American coastlines.

Upon landing, Phillis took an immensely negative experience and was able to find something good out of the ordeal. I am not so sure that I would have been able to do or see the sun shine through the rain as Phillis was able to. I am close to my parents and Lord knows how much I love and need my mom. Imagine the thought of no longer seeing your family. Visualize never seeing that closest relative. The one who nurtured you taught you and showed you all that you know. This is precisely what Phillis experienced. Through all of this she remained optimistic about her present realities and her future. This is triumph of optimism over of experience. At times we tend to see the glass half empty instead of half full. This was not the case of Phillis Wheatley.

Terrance Collins wrote, "Phillis Wheatley was owned by the Boston tailor John Wheatley. Mr. Wheatley gave the sketch of her origins in a letter of introduction to the 1773 edition of her poems:

Phillis was brought from Africa to America, in the year 1761, between seven and eight years of age. Without any assistance from school education and by only what she was taught in the family, she in sixteen months time from her arrival attained the English language..." "to such a degree as to read any, the most difficult part of the sacred writings, to the great astonishment of all who heard her. " (Mason 1 )

This is just an example of the motivation Phillis had to empower herself. I think the above sentenced Phillis Wheatley wrote about herself in the letter showed how brilliant she was.

When you analyze a Phillis Wheatley's poem, "On Being Brought from Africa to America" there is no sense of hatred toward her captors and enslavers. There is no degree of animosity. Her poems do the contrary. When I read the poem "On being brought from Africa to America" I was inspired to make the best of my situation. If I was given lemons, I should make lemonade and enjoy a glass or two. Take the following verse as an example:

'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"

It was mercy? Whitley describes her kidnapping and death defying journey to America as mercy. Now don't think that Phillis has gone crazy. This stanza is a mere example of her brilliance. It also shows the ultimate example of how Wheatley's work presents an excellent example of the triumph of optimism over her past experiences. I as a reader of her worm am more determined to not let my past dictate my future.

Though the stanza gives the impression that Wheatley was a devout Christian, though she was, Wheatley knew the audience she was writing for. She knew the subjects she could write about without turning off her readership and most importantly getting herself into unneeded trouble. In the above stanza Phillis uses the word "benighted" which means "overtaken by night or darkness" or "being in a state of moral or intellectual darkness." (Webster's Dictionary) She recognized of her past emotional and intellectual conditions and sees how far she has come. This is a continuation of her life theme of seeing the cup half full.




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