Representation of Views of Society in British America in Poems of Phillis Wheatley and Crevecoeur

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In Crevecoeur’s Letters from an American Farmer and the assigned poems of Phillis Wheatley, both authors use their unique backgrounds to discuss the complex and often opposing views of society in British America. Told from the perspective of a fictional narrator in correspondence with a gentleman, Crevecoeur’s Letters describe British society as revolutionary yet overshadows it by the joy and liberation experienced in the transition from Europe to America. On the other hand, the assigned poems by Phillis Wheatley includes a pointed criticism of the hypocrisy of the institution of slavery created by the Christians around her which was masked by an outer unconventional appeal to British society and “reaching salvation.” The complexities of both works of literature share the view that although life in British America demands rigorous work, there is a significant amount of liberation and opportunity that goes along with the journey to America, strengthened by the doubles meanings in Wheatley’s poems.

In Crevecoeur’s Letters, he assigns each letter to concern a different aspect of life in the British colonies of America and highlights differences through comparisons with Europe. In Letter 1, Farmer John’s wife beings by seemingly praising the English for the “worldly learning” (Letter 1), but immediately following up with the contrast that the American lifestyle of manual labor is superior than studying the abstract. Letter 1 establishes the common theme of Crevecoeur by mentioning the positive qualities of the British and Americans and then being more critical of their lifestyles and actions. He then uses a comparison that an American farmer would be the equivalent of a “peasant” or “boor” (Letter 2) in Europe, openly acknowledging Europe to be prosperous and economically advantaged. However, he immediately states his empathy of the Europeans that serfdom is absent is his life as an American farmer. In the third letter, Crevevouer compares British America as a “melting pot” (Letter 3) to emphasize the amount of diversity saturated in America and how it is vital to the growth of the nation. He sees that the emotions brought from opportunities opened up my transitioning to America is incomparable to those back home in England. Overall, he considers British America as distinctive and admirable largely due to personal freedom and increased opportunities, while also acknowledging that the major influence from Great Britain was a strong attributing factor. He recognizes that although an Englishman may see similar qualities between his old country and the new one, the personal exploration and rigor in the new land is unprecedented.

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In Phillis Wheatley’s poem, she uses her experiece as an African kidnapped into slavery to point out the hypocrisy of the institution of slavery. In the poem titled ‘On Being Brought From Africa to America’, Wheatley utilizes a strategic approach through irony, multiple double meanings, and a rhyme scheme to convey her point that although she views slavery as a positive for being introduced to slavery and reaching salvation, she achieved the same amount of freedom back home in Africa. In essence, she is stating that she had nothing to be liberated of back in Africa, and the Christians’ effort to spread Christianity is fruitless because she was enslaved when she got to America. She uses loaded diction with words such as “Pagan Land”(p.13) and “benighted”(p.13), referring to Africa as Pagan, masking her actual thought that America was more of a pagan land with the introduction of slavery. Wheatley ends the final two lines with a reminder that all people can be saved regardless of skin color, adding to the hypocrisy of the Christians for ironically attempting to save people by enslaving them. In relation to society in British America, Wheatley sees it as distinctive yet hypocritical because more freedom and opportunities are being taken away than given through the major contradictions of Christian views on salvation, slavery, and death.

The complexities of Phillis Wheatley’s poems, especially ‘On Bring Brought from Africa to America, is regarding the idea that there are essentially two meanings of the poem since it was written to strategically hide her true perspective on slavery, salvation, and death and as a political and moral statement to stir up controversy. The surface level meaning of the poem agrees with Crevecoeur’s letters since both emphasizes the opportunities for personal liberation that goes along with the transition to America. However, the true meanings of Wheatley’s poems concludes that she doesn't see the British American society as admirable but rather blatantly hypocritical because of the Christians and the institution of slavery. She sees the Christian perspective as contradictory in the root of freedom, since she was essentially enslaved in the process. In contrast, although Crevecoeur’s letters acknowledged British America to be rigorous and demanding word, he sees it in a positive light due to the amount of liberation gain after leaving the oppressive land of Europe.

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Representation of Views of Society in British America in Poems of Phillis Wheatley and Crevecoeur. (2022, July 14). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 25, 2024, from
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