The Influence Of Religion In Phillis Wheatley's Life

1415 words - 6 pages

The Influence of Religion in Phillis Wheatley's Life

Phillis Wheatley overcame extreme obstacles, such as racism and sexism, to become one of the most acclaimed poets in the 18th Century. Her works are characterized by religious and moral backgrounds, which are due to the extensive education of religion she received. In this sense, her poems also fit into American Poetry. However, she differs in the way that she is a black woman whose writings tackle greater subjects while incorporating her moral standpoint. By developing her writing, she began speaking out against injustices that she faced and, consequently, gave way to authors such as Gwendolyn Brooks and Countee Cullen.

On July 11, 1761, a slave ship from Fula, West Africa docked in Boston, Massachusetts (Weidt 7). John Wheatley, a wealthy merchant and a tailor, and his wife, Susanna, were at the auction searching for younger, more capable slaves (Weidt 9). Among those chosen, they picked a cheaply priced girl, estimated by her missing front teeth to be about seven or eight years old (Weidt 7). She was also chosen because Susanna felt sorry for her, probably because she was so emaciated (Weidt 9). Because the little girl had no identity, as it was left behind in West Africa, the Wheatleys needed to name her. Like all slave owners, they gave the young girl their last name (Weidt 10). Her first name came from the ship she was on, Phillis, which was owned by Timothy Fitch (Mason 3).

As time passed, Phillis was considered more like a part of the family than a slave. Phillis received an extensive education, which was comparable to that of a wealthy white man (Mason 4). Mary, the Wheatley's daughter, was an aspiring teacher and taught the Arabic-speaking girl English and then in categories such as geography, Christian principles, and Latin (Weidt 11). Because the Wheatleys were active Christians, the primary concentration of Phillis' studies was in the Bible. In general, religion was a large part of Boston. Few slaves were encouraged to attend church; however, the Wheatleys attended New South Congregational Church and encouraged Phillis to embrace the Lord as they had (Mason 4). Because she was asthmatic, she attended Old South Congregational Church, which was closer to the Wheatley residence (Weidt 15).

By the age of twelve, she had become quite familiar with the Bible as well as literary works of contemporary English poets. In addition, she translated works by the Latin and Greek writers Ovid and Homer, respectively (Mason 4). At this same time, after being in Boston for about four years, she began to take an interest in writing (Mason 4). Susanna supplied Phillis with paper and ink to enable her to write and even allowed Phillis to ignore her household duties to write&emdash;something that was practically unheard of for a slave (Mason 5). However, Susanna was accommodating because she wanted Phillis to pursue her religious education and believed that writing would enable her to do...

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