The Unifying Aspects of Cultures


Frontier Metamorphoses: Americanization and Otherness

Russell Reising (University of Toledo, Ohio, USA)
Phillis Wheatley: Trauma, Memory, and Americanization

In her struggle both to acclimate and to resist domestication by her white owners and white colonial American society, Phillis Wheatley cast her most popular and conventional poetry in a heavily coded language. At once acceptable to and critical of white society, Wheatley's verse dramatizes the dilemma of the black, slave subject who needed to be accepted in order to survive. In her poems dealing with memory, especially "On Recollection," Wheatley stages the ultimate act in her drama of tensely negotiated identity. She re-members her African childhood and the traumas inflicted upon her and her people in a verse that simultaneously heals her psychic wounds, assuages the guilt of her owners, and challenges the racism of her social conditions. In so doing, Wheatley demonstrates one of many ways in which marginalized peoples - slaves, immigrants, women, gays and lesbians - articulate their own American selfhood in subtly explosive ways.