The eightieth century was filled with many historical changing events. From a new scientific and philosophical point of view, changes in the influence and view of the dominating religions, to many revolutionary stands against England. The revolution in print culture helped Americans develop a sense of national identity as the voices of many authors were read and heard amongst the civilians. This served as common ground between all the drastic changes Gura’s article American Literature, 1700-1820 explains. Each developing author contributed to a different area within The Great Awakening or Enlightenment Era.
Thomas Paine’s pamphlet Common Sense was accredited with tipping the scales towards revolution. (Gura, 362) The pamphlet had been published shortly after a series of attacks towards America on behalf of England, some of them being The Stamp Act of 1764 and three years later The Boston Tea Party. “Americans need a champion for the Revolution, and in December 1776, when Washington troops were at their most demoralized, it was, again, Paine’s first Crisis paper–popularly called The American Crisis–that was read to all the regiments and was said to have inspired their coming success. (Gura, 362)
Other authors to serve as motivation and cause great impact in the new developing line of thought were “Benjamin Franklin with his Autobiography and Hector St. John de Crevecoeur with Letters from an American Farmer. They mark the beginning of a new sense of national identity as colonist from a greatly different backgrounds and of varied nationalist now found reasons to call themselves “Americans”. ” (Gura, 362) The world of print was characterized by many surging changes for both male and female writers. The first newspaper appeared in 1704 and by the time of the Revolution there were almost fifty papers and forty magazines.
Around the 1770‘s women began to write for the public sphere. Finally, by the end of eightieth century the novels began their appearance. Many people came to benefit from this printing world and religious groups and fundamentalists were no exception. In the attempt to revive many of the previews religious views by modifying them so that they could fit into the new enlightened thought and perspective many revivalist engaged into pamphlet wars. “Edwards and others who believed in the new light that God has shed over them had to expend much of their time and energy in pamphlet wars with prominent clergy. ” (Gura, 360)
Within time the women involved in publishing their works to papers and magazines left their pseudonyms behind and began to publish under their own names. They slowly began to fight for their rights. A new movement surged that consisted in educating women like men, so that they could imbue children about patriotic ideals at a young age. Literary women began to testify in their favor about their usefulness in the public sphere. “Fired up enlightened ideals of reason and equality, women like Judith Sargent Murray and Hannah Foster began to speak and write on public subjects and to agitate for their rights as citizens. (Gura, 363). Women became contributors to the civil or political discourse as the nation’s state became a public concern.
Phillis Wheatley was one of many women who’s worked became renown and of great influence. Wheatley’s work focused itself mainly on religion and politics. Her slave owners, John and Susannah Wheatley, provided her knowledge of the Bible and various English poets who served as inspiration and motivation for the development of her talent. As the slave she was, she wished to see herself and her kind free, “there could be no justice anywhere if people in authority were deaf to the cries of human sorrow. (Gura, 752) The citizens of a America who are now fighting against England for their freedom were still themselves slave owners and as she told Samson Occom, a presbyterian minister, “the exercise of slavery cannot be reconciled with a “principle” that God has implanted in every human breast, “Love of Freedom. ” ”(Gura, 752) Phillis Wheatley had the grand opportunity to have her worked published and known throughout England and America. She gained the respect and support of writers such as Benjamin Franklin. Her poem On the Death of the Rev.
Mr. George Whitefield gained her fame for it’s praising content. “Her literacy gifts, intelligence, and piety were a striking example to her English and American admirers of the triumphs of the human spirit over the circumstances of birth. ” (Gura, 751) This fame she gained around different readers from England to America would have not been possible if not for the revolution and improvement of the print culture. Although she was asked to write a second volume of poems and letters this was never published and to this day are still to be found.
In her poem To the University of Cambridge, in New England her knowledge and religious view is manifested in her pursuit to make notice to the reader, thus being the students, of the wonders God has done. She also points out that the practice of enslavement should not fall upon any Christian’s way of living. “Father of mercy, ‘twas Thy gracious hand/ Brought me in safety from those dark abodes. ” (Phillis, 756). She argues that if it would have not been for God’s help she’d still be in the “land of errors”, bringing one back to her need to let these students know of God’s intervention.
Another point she makes evident distinction is or her racial background and that of the student, by referring to them as the “sons of science” and herself as a Ethiop. In the first stanza of her poem Phillis Wheatley opens by evoking the help of the muses to write the following piece. She then proceed to admit her place of origin and African heritage: “Twas nor long since I left my native shore/ The land of errors, and Egyptian gloom. ” (Phillis, 756) She ends by thanking God for his intervention in bringing her safely from that “dark abodes”.
Wheatley seems to view what is occurring in her native land as a big sin, given the fact that she has been introduced to christianity. This acquired knowledge may produce in her a sense of relief at the thought of being taken from there, that she arrived safely to America. Combining her opening stanza and the beginning of the second one it’s clear to see the distinguish she makes from her cultural background and the people she is addressing by referring to them as “sons of science”.
They have at their hands endless knowledge and possibilities, in spite of that, she feels the need to guide them through a more thorough explanation of what a true christian is. She demonstrates an impeccable knowledge on the subject by narrating God’s actions and sacrifices to clears from sin and give us a new path to live by. “How Jesus’ blood for your redemption flows. ” (Phillis, 756) Finally, in her last stanza, she tells the students to take good advantage of this knowledge they posses.
To go further from what they are told or what they read, for it is important to “Suppress the deadly serpent in its egg. / Ye blooming plants of human race divine,/ An Ethiop tells you ’tis your greatest foe;/ Its transient sweetness turns to endless pain,/ And in immense perdition sinks the soul. ” (Phillis, 756) With this she gives into interpretation that slavery too is a sin and if one considers thyself a christian respect to other and all humans is a must. The world of printing provided many opportunities, from motivational speeches to voice to the voiceless.
Women, who in the eightieth century could not own property, vote nor be educated found a way to speak their minds via literary women such Phillis Wheatley, Jane Colman Turell, Judith Sargent Murray, Sarah Wentworth Morton and many other female writers. Phillis Wheatley is a combination between the success of the printing world, black women literature, women literature, and the perseverance of religion in the new enlightenment era.
Gura, Philip F. “American Literature 1700 – 1820. ” The Norton Anthology of American Literature. th ed. Vol. A. New York: Norton, 2007. 357-65. Print. Gura, Philip F. “Phillip Wheatley. ” The Norton Anthology of American Literature. 7th ed. Vol. A. New York: Norton, 2007. 751-52. Print. Gura, Philip F. “Women’s Poetry: From Manuscript to Print. ” The Norton Anthology of American Literature. 7th ed. Vol. A. New York: Norton, 2007. 710-11. Print. Wheatley, Phillis. “To the University of Cambridge in New England. ” The Norton Anthology of American Literature. 7th ed. Vol. A. New York: Norton, 2007. 755-56. Print.