Phillis Wheatley’s work should be included in the anthology of African Literature in the Antebellum Era. Even though Wheatley’s work was mainly Spiritual, her poetry still retains the style and subject of the Antebellum Era. The Antebellum Era is widely considered the period of time prior the Civil War and after the War of 1812. During this era the poetry and literature was popularly about slave issues and the difficulties facing the Northern United States and the Southern United States.The era is mostly representative of the eventual polarization of the North versus the South, the slave supporting cotton states and the abolitionists, and the issues of slavery. The Antebellum Era is now known mostly by the shadow cast by the Civil War, even though at the time the people writing the poetry and literature, didn’t know that the war that was to follow would eventually color how future generations viewed their works. The interesting fact about the Antebellum Era is that as technology increased, so did the second religious revival. This means that most of the literature created at the time would have been written in this sort of viewpoint. The technology of the day would make it easier for people to work, but would also increase the demand for workers- mostly slaves. This grew as the religious views of the time blossomed back into the former fervor of the Great Awakening.
Phillis Wheatley’s works mostly look at the religious side of the time period, mixing in several of the other elements, mainly how slavery affects the religious, but that makes no change to the fact that her work at its core is a work of the Antebellum Era. The language she employs, the style of poetry, and the subjects of her works all combine into a poignant commentary on life as she knew it. She was born in Gambia in 1753, but was kidnapped on a slave ship in 1761 and brought to Boston where John Wheatley bought her as a household slave for his wife. In her new family, Wheatley was found to have an amazing affinity for learning and was taught to read by her new mistress and her children. The poet mastered Latin, Greek, and English and was later freed. She then married and struggled financially for a time as her poetry struggled to become published.
Although Wheatley wasn’t born in the right era, her poetry matches the requirements for the time, bringing together the aspects of slave life, religion, and the technology used for slave work into her magnificent pieces. It is for this reason that her works should be included as part of the anthology for the Antebellum Era. Her life may not have been lived during the time period, but her poetry certainly was. The deep, soul searching voice of her poetry stretches past the reach of her lifetime and dips its delicate fingers into the tide pools at the edge of the ocean of literature and poetic works during the inspiring time period.
Phillis Wheatley’s life experiences, inspiration, stylistic ability, and choice of poetic structure all herald to the Antebellum Era regardless of when she was actually writing. It is this understanding of poetry as a fluctuating, timeless expression of the human spirit that enables her poems to be included in the works of a much later era. The style of her work relates to Sojourner Truth’s Ain’t I a Woman specifically in the section “And ain’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman?” Both poets bring slave life into relationship with religion and a lofty goal. Her work also relates to Frederick Douglas’ work My Bondage and My Freedom in the line “Heaven’s blessing must attend all, and freedom must soon be given to the pining millions under a ruthless bondage,” in that her works also draw upon issues of faith and freedom and how the laws of Heaven deal with slavery.
In conclusion, since Wheatley’s poetry fits the main characteristics of that of poetry from the Antebellum Era, and is by a poet originally from Africa, it should be included in the anthology of African Poetry from the Antebellum Era regardless of when Phillis Wheatley was actually born and originally wrote.