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Becoming Colored in Occom and Wheatley’s Early America
PMLA (2008)
  • Katy Chiles, University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Engaging contemporaneous ideas about how environmental factors could alter the surface of the human body, Samson Occom and Phillis Wheatley use language emphasizing the ostensible malleability of physical characteristics—what I call a symbolics of metamorphosis—to depict the formation of racial identities. For Occom, the beliefs his Anglo- and Native American contemporaries held about the status of the “red” Indian enable him to challenge colonial society’s contradictory Christian epistemology in his 1772 A Sermon, Preached at the Execution of Moses Paul, an Indian. In her 1773 Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, Wheatley fuses ancient mythological beliefs and natural-historical axioms about the production of poetic genius and dark skin to characterize the black poet as an inevitable outcome rather than an anomalous exception. Drawing on the late-eighteenth-century notion of transformable race, this essay posits a historically specific model of critical race theory for interpreting early American literatures. 10.1632/pmla.2008.123.5.1398
Publication Date
October, 2008
Citation Information
Katy Chiles. "Becoming Colored in Occom and Wheatley’s Early America" PMLA Vol. 123 Iss. 5 (2008)
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