English 300

Salisbury U

Dr. Randall


18th Century Black Literature


5-7 Page Documented Source Paper



Throughout the course we have considered how rhetoric functions in eighteenth-century portraits and how frontispieces of early Black Atlantic writers frame their texts. We have learned that Black Atlantic writers’ texts contain prefatory materials, written and visual, that package and frame them as a whole. This “production of production,” or Black Atlantic writers’ texts packaged and framed as a whole, points toward the importance of political, social, cultural, and historical contexts surrounding the publication of their works. The rhetoric of portraits and frontispieces of Black Atlantic writers are persuasive advertisements meant to appeal to readers in order to sell both writer and text.


Your task is to write an essay which is a critical response to a text we have read this term. Whatever your approach to the literature, your task is to make meaning and arrive at a deeper understanding of the text. Use your writing as an opportunity to share with an audience your understanding of the text. Be sure to demonstrate how you arrive at this understanding, and why you think this issue is important.  The bottom line is that your essay has to respond directly to some aspect of a text.


The purpose of this paper is to provide you with the opportunity to examine ideas that you have begun to consider within a detailed analysis of a text that is relevant to this class with the added dimension of incorporating quotes and ideas from secondary sources to support your own points. Each paper should contain a strong original thesis statement that presents your ideas in the introductory paragraph and subsequent paragraphs with clear topic sentences that function to prove your ideas throughout the paper. Consult the primary text, the text that you choose to analyze, for quotes that support your ideas. Be sure to explain the quotes from both types of sources fully and clearly so that you interpret them for your reader and relate them to your main point. Avoid explaining someone else’s argument. The secondary sources are for support only.


Possible Approaches
Note that these sample questions are intended to help guide you in your choice of topic or approach, and are not meant as a comprehensive set of questions.  You are welcome to use any of these questions or create variations of these questions.  I ask that you check with me on your choice, so that I might guide you in terms of focusing or developing your idea.  As part of the writing process, you must complete an initial and revised argument proposal, introductory paragraph, and draft of the paper for peer review.  At the time of final submission, please make sure that your pocket folder contains all writing process components, corresponding peer review forms, and the final version of the paper with a works cited page stapled to it.

Possible Paper Topics



1. Consider the title of Vincent Carretta’s anthology, Unchained Voices. Write an essay exploring exactly what this title means?  Consider the writers’ depictions of liberation from physical, verbal, written, and spiritual captivity. Remember, all the writers we have read thus far begin chronicle their captivity first, liberation second, and then restoration third. Is Phillis Wheatley (Briton Hammon, Jupiter Hammon, James Gronniosaw) an unchained voice? How and why? Choose one or more writers listed above and then construct and argument based on your interpretation of their poem(s)/narrative(s).


2. Write an essay comparing and contrasting the prefatory material of two or more texts. Consider portraits, dedications, prefaces, epigraphs, or any other items contained as prefatory material. What similarities and differences do you see between the two different authors’ prefatory documents? Which things are consistent between the two sets and what differences do you so? Finally, evaluate the extent to which the prefatory materials succeed at building the credibility, agency, authority, or authenticity of the two writers.


3. Compare and contrast how slaves in Britain, America, and the West Indies were viewed?  How were they treated? Use examples from the texts we have read in class to support your argument. You should consider at three different narratives in your analysis.


4. Death is a common theme throughout Phillis Wheatley’s Poems on Various Subjects Religious and Moral. Many of Wheatley’s poems are elegiac. Why did Wheatley write so many elegies? Is she trying to get a certain message across? Why does she place such a heavy emphasis on the theme of death in her poetry? What types of things are consistent throughout her Wheatley’s elegies in terms of convention, form, subject matter, tone, style, and so forth? Use at least three poems to make your argument.


5. Consider some of the reason for Black Atlantic writers including religion as a primary tool and point of focus in their narratives.  Support your argument with examples from at least three different texts.

6. Write an essay that considers the similarities and differences between Phillis Wheatley’s use of convention, rhetorical strategy, and/or political messages in her poems versus letters. Are there points of comparison between the two, or do we find drastic differences. You may want to consider whether or not there is signifying, double-consciousness, and double-directed discourse within the letters.  What is the overall tone of Wheatley’s letters? How does this compare with what we find in her poetry? Choose a specific letter(s) and poem(s).

7. A topic of your own choosing or a topic that is slightly varied from one of the above. The topic, of course, is subject to my approval.