Comparison of Themes in the Poems of Phillis Wheatley and Robert Hayden

April 27, 2022 by Essay Writer

Thru out the poems we’ve analyzed how themes are very significant and have played a major role. In the poem “On being Brought from Africa to America” we can see the message of everyone having their own point of view in life and this was illustrated in the irony of her diction. “Middle Passage” gives the theme that only the smartest survive in the world from the facts that are given thru the poem of the slave trader.

Phillis Wheatley’s On Being Brought from Africa to America begins the setting of the narrator with a humble tone. She begins with the phrase “mercy brought me from my Pagan land,” giving the reader to think that she was thankful of what had happened to her. The irony in this is very dramatical because of the circumstances she was in. As a slave that was forced to leave her country, it is very strange to have that mentality of seeing the positive of leaving your home. Some people might find this fascinating because of the author uses diction to portray her point of view. One example of this would be her reference to her old condition. She mentions her “benighted soul”, as in being brought to America was a positive change.

The poem gives readers the understanding that the fact that she found the truth and now sees the Middle Passage as something that is helping the people that are being captured and forced to come. In addition, Wheatley describes her own people as “black as Cain”. This is a reference to the first children of Adam and Eve and how Cain killed his brother of jealousy. Thus, giving the word Cain a negative connotation and something, you would only compare to terrible. The author uses this to give her opinion on the setting in which the other slaves are in and how they have not yet been “saved”. This uses of diction gives readers a clear understanding of where she’s coming from, but also how she only has one point of view. As we know now, most people were forced to join religions, jobs, and families. Thus, showing the theme on how everyone is always going to have their own point of view of the Middle Passage.

Another interpretation of the Atlantic Slave Trade was Robert Hayden’s Middle Passage. Thru out the long poem we have many points of views, but the one that’s most significant towards me was part 2. In the poem one of the main themes that was being some what hidden was survival of the smartest. This can be viewed on the tone that’s given from the poem. For example, the narrator, which is a slave trader, uses a lot of diction to introduce himself as a higher position. The poem starts with “Aye, lad,” giving the readers this tone of him having superiority. This was common during this era because of the respect for elders. We can analyses that he is an older fellow that has years of experience and is trying to tell his story. Also, one of the lines that indicate the theme is line 17-18. The narrator states that the king “Would have drums talk war” which can be analyzed as him doing the work of capturing the slaves.

This is fascinating because of the fact on how it goes against what we think of how they captured slaves. Our modern knowledge has taught us that the whites would capture the people, but here its completely irrational. The author is now telling the reader that they would use their own people “burn the sleeping villages”. This shows how smart the people that would do this for a living here and there strategies. Also, it allows us to see how the author used certain words to describe how the king was doing all the work while he was collecting the money. “Twenty years a trader, twenty years, /for there was wealth aplenty to be harvested /from those black fields, and I’d be trading still” These last lines sum up how the narrator felt of his experience. He uses this to state how he enjoyed the years of slave trade and now we know why. Because he never did any of the hard work. He let the king do all the capturing while he sat back. Therefore, giving a hidden message of only the smartest survive in the Middle Passage.

What we see from the two poems is that the Atlantic Slave trade affected both of the narrator’s lives. Us the readers see how the have very similar opinions on the slave trade. Both Hayden and Wheatley give a tone of thankfulness in the poems. They use phrases like “and join th’ angelic train.” and “I’d be trading still/but for the fevers melting down my bones” that give a sense of humbleness and appreciation to what they’ve experienced. The irony in that is the major differences between the 2 narrators. Wheatley’s poem is being told by the eyes of a female slave that was brought to America while on the other hand Hayden’s is coming from the view of a slave trader that has been doing it for 20 years.

This is very strange because of the historical context behind it and its rarity. We all know that the people the slave traders were not volunteers but captured Africans that were forced to come to America. Thru different written personal diaries and passed down tales, slave traders didn’t have it hard while most slaves hated the fact that they were forced to be brought to North America, but surprising enough, Wheatley doesn’t have those statements.

She views it from a religious perspective and mentions how she is being saved by God and that it was a blessing. Which is fascinating considering the fact that she probably also had to go thru the harsh 3-month passage from Africa to America while the slave traders were being paid for his doings. On the other had Hayden’s whole narration is a flashback to his old experiences. He talks about the fun and satisfaction he received during his adventures going to Africa and capturing slaves. These are clearly to backgrounds of the narrators yet somehow have the similarity of the experience to something that’s seen as history as some of the gruesome times in all humanity.

Overall both poems have many themes and messages that can be interpreted from the readers. Its fascinating how both experiences can have a positive connotation to something so horrifying in history. Many people could probably disagree with the points stated on the poems, but at the end its everyone’s own interpretation. However, I would be one of the people that would argue their views of the Atlantic Slave Trade because of the harshness and cruelty that was involved. These themes are something that could be argued and that’s okay. These poems teach us that no matter what background you have, there can always be a connection in life.


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