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On Being Brought from Africa to America

On Being Brought from Africa to America


by Phillis Wheatley

On Being Brought from Africa to America Theme of Race

No question about it, Wheatley is concerned with race in "On Being Brought from Africa to America." But not the kind of race you win medals for. With a title about being brought to America on a slave ship, and phrases like "sable race" and "diabolic die," we've got a poem weighted with racial tensions in America during the eighteenth century, especially between blacks and whites. Wheatley boldly addresses her belief in equality among races throughout the poem, and shows how her conversion to Christianity is proof that all people are equal, regardless of their skin color.

Questions About Race

  1. How does the title of this poem create a tension between "black" and "white" that is later addressed in the poem? How does Wheatley address coming from a primarily black country to a primarily white country? 
  2. How does Wheatley use punctuation in this poem to emphasize racial tension? In particular, how does her use of commas and quotation marks become a tool for her to express her views on racial equality? 
  3. What figurative images does Wheatley use to describe African-Americans? In what ways do those images work as messages about how Wheatley felt about her identity as a black woman, and her feelings about racial equality?
  4. Is Wheatley criticizing or supporting her "being brought from Africa to America"? In other words, does she view being brought to America as a good or bad thing, and how does this fit into her message about racial equality?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Wheatley's race isn't to the finish line first, but she knows being black in America was something that should not disqualify her from being treated as an equal.

Through her use of imagery, Wheatley portrays her race as something seen as both negative and positive during her lifetime. It's not that she couldn't make her mind up. Instead, this back-and-forth emphasizes the racial tensions between black and whites in America.

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