Literature: “On being brought from Africa to America” by Phillis Wheatley


The poem “On being brought from Africa to America” by Wheatley elicits mixed reactions from readers. Wheatley was a slave Negro girl. She lived between 1753 and 1784. She spent her childhood years with a wealthy Boston family. However, unlike other slaves, her masters taught her how to read and write.

They gave her the name ‘Phillis’. It was derived from the ship that brought the little girl to America. She displays talent and intelligence in her writings. She read her works to people around the world and was the first black woman to publish a book of poems (Jamison 409).

The poem “On being brought from Africa to America” addresses a number of subjects. They include history, religion, salvation, and slavery. The same themes are reflected in the poet’s life. For example, she changed her name, religion, and attitude towards life. It is important for every person to read, know, and understand this poem.

The reason is that it is historically and linguistically rich. The poem highlights the significance of the change in human society. Such transformations include those associated with history, religion, and life in general.

Why it is Important to Understand “On being brought from Africa to America”

Understanding the poem helps one appreciate the place of slavery in American and world history. Back in the days, it was hard to find a slave who could read and write. The blacks were treated as an inferior race. Wheatley explores the experiences of being a black educated slave (Mays 34).

She is praised for writing just like any white man. The whites wanted to be superior to other races. As such, they could not understand how a Negro can be praised. But this did not stop Phillis and the Wheatleys, who viewed her as a special slave, from exploring her talent. As such, this poem makes one understand that the slaves were just victims of circumstances. They had intelligence and other potential that could be exploited if they were given the chance.

With regards to religion, Wheatley laments that Africa is regarded as a pagan land. In the first line of the poem, she says, “Twas mercy brought me from my pagan land” (Jamison 408). Eventually, this development leads to the element of change. It means that luck and mercy brought her to America to find redemption and follow what God wanted her to.

Change is experienced when she neglects her motherland in the poem and embraces the new religion. Not many people are capable of handling that much change. The poem makes one acknowledge the changes taking place in Africa and among Africans. The changes are brought about by the interactions between this continent and the western nations.

In line five of the poem, Wheatley says that “Some view our sable race with the scornful eye” (Jamison 411). She explains how people disapproved of her talent because of her race. Once again she shows that “the black people were deemed inferior” (Jamison 411). She uses Cain’s dark soul to refer to the dark skin of Africans. She says that through true religion, everyone could be saved. The scenario shows how Africans are associated with various negativities. It also indicates some blacks, including Wheatley, have internalized these stereotypes.

Considering that this poem was written in the 18th century, it is clear that world unity has never been attained in the modern world. The poem shows that racism is rampant in many societies in the world. However, Wheatley expresses her hopes when she concludes the poem by telling the whites that black people can be “refined” by becoming spiritually educated (Jamison 410). As such, reading the poem reveals that unity is possible in modern society. It is one of the reasons why everyone must become acquainted with it.

Understanding the Meaning of the Poem

The meaning of the poem can be discerned by analyzing the language used by Wheatley. In just eight lines, Wheatley expresses her feelings towards enslavement (Jamison 410). In the first part of the poem, she explains the experiences of being brought out of Africa. After capturing the attention of the reader, the speaker adopts a commanding language in the second part. She challenges the morality of the whites by reminding them that Africans are humans too.

Wheatley uses the iambic structure of poems to express herself. The rhyming associated with this style calls attention to the linked words. To this end, Wheatley suggests that what may appear evil (African) is also worthy of joining heaven (Mays 600). The words ‘brought’,’ taught’, and ‘sought’ are used to summarize the poem in a rhythmic way.

Wheatley was ‘brought’ to America, ‘taught’ by her masters, and later ‘sought’ for redemption (Mays 602). In addition, the three words bring out a picture of change and transition. Wheatley also uses sound play to communicate the meaning of the poem. In line five, she uses ‘S’ to achieve this. The words ‘some’, ‘sable’ race and ‘scornful’ are linked to show how the whites regard the blacks.


People should read and understand this poem since it explains history, slavery, religion, and redemption. The four are some of the most essential elements of human civilization. Rhythm and sound play are used to convey the meaning of the poem. For the modern world to achieve peace and unity, the color of someone’s skin should be disregarded. In addition, Wheatley shows that no race should be regarded as superior to the other.

Works Cited

Jamison, Angelene. “Analysis of Selected Poetry of Phillis Wheatley.” Journal of Negro Education 43.3 (1974): 408-416. Print.

Mays, Kelly. The Norton Introduction to Literature. 11th ed. 2013. New York: W.W. Norton & Co. Print.

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