Analyzing the Text
Imagery used: “shining” “hope” “unfold” “dies” “languished and expired” “sadness.” This imagery, which shows Freedom as a thing growing and then dying, places hope in the Earl, to revive Freedom. She addresses him directly, making him responsible for doing so.
Wheatley uses religion to describe redemption; coming to America exposed her to religion and so she can be redeemed. Freneau finds redemption in moving West, into natural country so as to escape the unhealthy slavery of the East. Both find redemption in movement but Wheatley’s is turned towards religion and Freneau’s towards nature.
In “To the Right Honorable William,” Wheatley describes her enslavement and captivity with reference to the original snatching from Africa’s happy seat. She says that her desire for freedom stems from there, from wanting others never to experience this ‘tyranny.’ Her purpose is to convince the Earl to stop slavery and so she wishes to convey the pang and sorrow of her enslavement. In her other poem: “On being brought from Africa to America,” she describes her enslavement as “mercy” bringing her from pagan land (1). Her purpose here is to remind Christians (Americans) that all souls may be saved and so slavery should not exist.
Words: “proud “despotic” “all-aspiring pride” “pomp” “bliss” “east is half to slaves consigned.” The diction reveals that Freneau’s biggest concern with America is its copying of English governance (royal and elitist). He believes American will break away from this by moving West, into natural country, where greed and pride have yet to be found.
The north American landscape: “lonely plains” “wildest genius reigns’ “savage.” He suggests through the “unsocial Indian,” (21) who retreats before the dark stream of emigration, that they (Native Americans) are like the landscape before the arrival of Europeans: wild, natural, beautiful, free and savage.
Wheatley makes this allusion in order to tie together what the Earl can do for them (slaves) to what Elijah did for God. She connects the two together to emphasize the Earl’s importance and to tie his actions to the bible. Placing it at the end further emphasizes the Earl’s power and worthiness.
“To the Right Honorable William:” slavery is a tool to convince the Earl to help abolish it. “On being Brought from Africa:” slavery is used to show how religion can save. Freneau’s poem uses oppression to convince the reader to move away from the old systems of governance (of pride) and away from slavery, into the freedom of nature. Wheatley’s background as a slave allows her to deal firsthand with slavery, whereas Freneau can deal with it only as an outsider, treating more with oppression than slavery.