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Critical Analysis of Douglass' and Wheatley's Poetry

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Frederick Douglass: An escaped slave, he is in his mid-twenties, but the first twenty years of his life were from 1818 – 1838. The last few have taken place in the 2010s. He is headstrong, confident, traumatized by slavery, and adamant about how Black people are truly not free until everything is 100% equal. He is now an upcoming artist who tells his story through music.

Phillis Wheatley: She is also in her mid-twenties, she is a former slave, who lived her first 20 years from 1753 – 1773. She believes that she was rescued from Africa and that Black people are cursed because they have not found God and once they find Him, they will truly be free. She is religious, intelligent, confident, and unapologetic.

It is 2017. Frederick Douglass is preparing for a collaboration song with Kendrick Lamar. Douglass has remixed one of his songs to express his feelings while he was enslaved by a cruel master and communicates his feelings after being “free”. Phillis Wheatley, who is Douglass’ friend, calls him talks about her faith, and why Black people are cursed.

Phillis Wheatley called Douglass earlier, Douglass doesn’t answer, so she left a voicemail, he is pacing around and checks his voicemails:

WHEATLEY: “What’s up, Fred?

Man, it’s just me Phillis, just givin’ you that call

We both know you’ve been through a lot And you know, I– I know you feel like

Nobody been prayin’ for you

But you gotta understand this man, that we are cursed people

Deuteronomy 28:28 says, “The Lord shall smite thee with madness And

Blindness, and astonishment of heart”

See, Fred, that’s why you feel how you feel

Kinda like you got Lucy on your back

Until you follow His commandments you– you gonna keep feeling that way”

*Douglass paces around his room and rehearses his verses*

*Kendrick Lamar Chorus*

Why God, why God do I gotta suffer?

Pain in my heart carry burdens full of struggle

Why God, why God do I gotta bleed?

Every stone throw at you restin’ at my feet

Why God, why God do I gotta suffer?

Earth is no more, won’t you burn this muh’fucka

*Douglass Verse*

I beat yo’ ass, keep talkin’ that

I beat yo’ ass, who got you that

You stole it, I beat yo’ ass if you stop workin’

I beat yo’ ass you fight it, I beat yo’ ass if you writin’

I beat yo’ ass if I beat yo’ ass twice and you still here

I’m talkin fear, fear of losin’ freedom

I’m talkin fear, fear of my people bleedin’

I’m talkin fear, fear of losin’ sanity for pride

Cause I can’t survive in the light of God

I’m talkin fear, fear that it’s wickedness or weakness

Fear, whatever it is, both is distinctive

Fear, whatever happens on Earth stays on Earth

And I can’t take these feelings with me

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So hopefully they’ll disperse among the tracks, carried out over wax

Searchin’ for resolutions until somebody gets back

*Douglass next verse*

I’ll prolly die anonymous, I’ll prolly die with promises

I’ll prolly die because my color stands out

I’ll prolly die sneakin out from massa’s house

I’ll prolly die forgotten, I’ll prolly die alone,

I’ll prolly die far from a place called home

Or maybe die for lookin’ the wrong way

Or maybe die from not doing what the massa say

When I was 20, I got used to living in fear

Accumulated 20 times over throughout the years

The shock value of being free put locks on me

All this freedom, is God playin’ a joke on me?

Is it for the moment, and will he see me as Job?

Take it from me and leave me worse than befo’?

At 20 years old my biggest fear was losin’ it all

Scared of goin’ back and being beat wall to wall

*Douglass is interrupted by the sound of his phone ringing, he goes and answers it*

Douglass: Hello?

Wheatley: Hey Fred, it’s me again, I was just wantin’ to tell you

Galatians 5:1 says “ It is for freedom that Christ has set us free

Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery”

So until y’all understand that y’all gotta accept Him—

Y’all will be under this curse

We’re gon’ keep feeling this way

So thy God, chasten thee, like you would chasten your own, God is gon’ chastise you cause’ he loves you

He chastises us, cause’ he loves us

Until we find our way back to his laws and commandments, and do

What the Lord told us to do, these curses are gon’ be upon us

We’re gon’ stay at a lower state in our life that we live in today, in today’s United States of America.

I love you Fred—

And God bless you.

*end*

I chose Douglass and Wheatley because I feel like they have major differences in their beliefs, specifically on the state that black people were in. I think Wheatley used God as a tool to explain why many White people were so cruel, and it helped her find a way to shift blame off of oppressors. I believe that calling them “lost” or “misguided” is a very, very soft way of expressing evil. I feel that Douglass was blunter in his depictions of the evil and describing the horrors that his people endured.

I expressed dialogue between Fredrick Douglass and Wheatley in the format of a play. In the play, I represent Wheatley as a person who believes freedom is a state-of-mind, a religious experience, and embodiment. Conversely, I represent Douglass as someone who believes freedom is a status in society, someone who hasn’t wholly abandoned religion but does not separate his spiritual journey from his journey on earth.

A big part of my motivation was the genre of hip-hop/rap; it is an outlet for many artists to talk about their past and their views on social issues. One of the most influential artists that do this is Kendrick Lamar. In the song I sampled from, he talks about why he isn’t free and his own personal problems. Setting the play in 2017 allows me to use a time where the Black Lives Matter movement gained a significant amount of traction, in a society where a president, whose views are oftentimes at the expense of minorities. In addition to that, 2017 was a year where many hip-hop artists spent their time creating songs about injustice towards the Black community. I think that the context setting and context allows a reader to see my interpretations of Phillis Wheatley and Fredrick Douglass and help bring out some of their differences.

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Critical Analysis of Douglass’ and Wheatley’s Poetry. (2022, July 14). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 5, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/critical-analysis-of-douglass-and-wheatleys-poetry/
“Critical Analysis of Douglass’ and Wheatley’s Poetry.” Edubirdie, 14 Jul. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/critical-analysis-of-douglass-and-wheatleys-poetry/
Critical Analysis of Douglass’ and Wheatley’s Poetry. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/critical-analysis-of-douglass-and-wheatleys-poetry/> [Accessed 5 Mar. 2024].
Critical Analysis of Douglass’ and Wheatley’s Poetry [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Jul 14 [cited 2024 Mar 5]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/critical-analysis-of-douglass-and-wheatleys-poetry/
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