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African American Literature

One of the purposes of literature is to lay bare the nature of the human soul. It is a process that might be called eavesdropping on the soul--the soul itself is complex and ongoing, and all that the poet or author can do is listen to a moment or two of the continuing exposition from the soul and shape it and report it to others so they will have a better understanding of their own souls. This process can be demonstrated with reference to stories and poems from American literature showing how the writers comment on what they find eavesdropping on their own souls in a way that reaches out to all.

Two of the voices discussed here were slaves, and their expression of the slave experience demonstrates clearly how human the selves really were, what effect the fact of slavery had upon them, and how severely the soul is tested by such adversity. Phyllis Wheatley was born in Gambia and then captured and brought to New England as a slave. Certainly, she was not free to express herself as would have been a free woman of the time, and for this reason her poetry was long misunderstood by other blacks who thought that she accepted slavery when in fact she made use of irony and metaphor to express her desire and yearning for freedom. Her soul was able to express itself even through the constraints placed upon it by the institution of slavery. The irony is apparent in her poem "On Being Brought from Africa to America," a poem which on the surface indicates thankfulness that she was brought from a pagan land to a Christian land so her soul could be saved. Yet, a closer reading shows a degree of sarcasm in the way the poem divides into two parts. Part one, the first four lines, makes wry reference to her "benighted soul" which has been taught to understand that there is a God and a Savior when before she was not even trying to be saved. Part two notes that some look askance at black people, finding something devilish in the color black it...

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African American Literature. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 00:16, September 20, 2020, from