'The Tongues of the Learned are Insufficient': Phillis Wheatley, Publishing Objectives, and Personal Liberty
Resources for American Literary Study, Vol. 20, No. 2, pp. 149-179, 1994
31 Pages Posted: 20 Aug 2009
Date Written: June 1, 1994
In grounding Wheatley's importance in terms of the specifics of the publication of Poems on Various Subjects, one is able to see the significance of a canonical work as both a literary achievement and an important moment in the history of the book in America. Wheatley's sense of history was, first and foremost, intended to create in her audiences a profound sense of the "constructedness" inherent in self and society. After the publication of Wheatley's poetry, her view took on a new force and importance as a number of New England writers sought to anchor their examinations of liberal democracy in the "authenticity" of their writing. These writers knew, as Jefferson did, that histories were written less to glorify God than to transform an audience's conception of its social world. Wheatley revised the project of revolution in terms of her own humanity. She did so for two reasons: to accommodate radical cultural, social, political, and religious change; and to alter her readers' conception of the meaning of Republicanism, directing readers to act and think and see in such a way that their reconstructed vision of America's critical mission would, through the audience's reception of the text, duplicate many of the insights Wheatley herself held to be essential to the expression of progressive government.
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