Which one of the following, if true, would most weaken the author's argument concerning the role that Wheatley played...

Lizzie on June 8, 2019


I found this question particularly confusing. In all honesty, I had no idea which answer was correct because they all felt incorrect to me.

2 Replies

Victoria on June 8, 2019

Hi @Lizzie-Annerino,

Let's start by going through the passage.

Paragraph 1 introduces the poet Phillis Wheatley, telling us that she was brought to colonial New England as a slave and that, for her, the formal literary code of 18th century English was removed from her experiences due to three factors: (1) English was an unfamiliar language; (2) there was a discrepancy between the spoken and literary forms of English; and (3) the African tradition was based in oral as opposed to written verbal art. Despite these initial barriers, the passage tells us that Wheatley was composing good English poetry within a few years of arriving in New England.

Paragraph 2 focuses on the connections between oral and written literary cultures as exemplified by Wheatley's experiences. The passage highlights the aesthetic principles of the African oral tradition which were preserved in America through music as well as the development of a distinctive "Black English." The passage suggests that, due to her African heritage and facility with English and the conventions of English poetry, Wheatley had the potential to apply concepts from written literature to an oral literary tradition, creating an African American literary language.

Paragraph 3 argues that Wheatley's poetry did not exploit this potential outlined above. Wheatley's understanding of the standards of 18th century English (neoclassical) poetry led her to develop her poetic voice through imitation of earlier written works. This foreclosed any opportunity for her to include Americanized English, "Black English," or Africanisms in her poetry. The passage states: "Wheatley adopted a foreign language and a foreign literary tradition; they were not extensions of her past experience, but replacements."

Finally, the author concludes that Wheatley's poetry contributed little to the evolution of an African American literary language. Despite this, the author concedes that, within the standards of neoclassical poetry, Wheatley is accomplished and is rightly celebrated as the first African American poet.

Now that we have an understanding of what the passage is telling us, we can address the question stem. We are looking for the answer choice that, if true, weakens the author's argument that Wheatley's poetry did not greatly contribute to the evolution of an African American literary language.

Answer choice A is incorrect because it actually strengthens the author's argument. The author argues that it was Wheatley's replacement of her past experience with the conventions of neoclassical poetry that foreclosed the possibility of her contributing to the evolution of an African American literary language. If Wheatley's poetry was admired in England for its faithfulness to these neoclassical conventions, then she was successful in imitating the work of past English poets and not in contributing to the evolution of an African American literary language.

Answer choice B is incorrect because it is irrelevant. The subject matter of Wheatley's poems does not matter if the style of poetry still attempts to mimic neoclassical poets. Even if Wheatley wrote about her family's experiences in Africa and America in her poetry, she was still imitating the English neoclassical style, thereby failing to contribute to the evolution of an African American literary language despite the fact that African American experiences were included.

Answer choice C is incorrect because it is irrelevant. Whether all who were brought from Africa as slaves were able to transcend the same language barriers as Wheatley or not has no impact on Wheatley's individual contributions to the evolution of an African American literary language.

Answer choice D is incorrect because it is irrelevant. The author's argument surrounds Wheatley's impacts on African American literary language not American literature.

Finally, answer choice E is correct because it weakens the author's ability to logically draw the conclusion that Wheatley had a minimal impact on the evolution of an African American literary language. If themes and expressions used in African American poetry can be traced back to the poetry of Wheatley, then her work had a demonstrable impact on African American poets. The themes and expressions in her poetry inspired others to work with those same themes and expressions, thereby contributing to the evolution of a distinct African American literary language and poetic tradition.

Hope this is helpful! Please let us know if you have any further questions.

Anthony on August 27 at 03:00AM

Ugh this passage killed me. I'm focusing on getting the main point of each paragraph then also focusing on the structure and tone throughout the passage. However, when first starting out in the passage it says the formal literary code was removed from her experiences. I was figuring out what this meant?