By Tracey L. Walters (auth.)
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Additional resources for African American Literature and the Classicist Tradition: Black Women Writers from Wheatley to Morrison
104) Whoever added this last stanza obviously presumed Wheatley’s poem was incomplete and included the description of Niobe’s metamorphosis. But when considering that Wheatley’s Niobe poem had been modified in numerous ways, it is likely that Wheatley intentionally ends her poem without Niobe’s metamorphosis. Similar to the ancient play by Aischylos, which does not describe Niobe’s transformation into stone, Wheatley allows Niobe to remain as a woman of flesh and blood because in her immortal state Niobe is a symbolic image of all grieving mothers who lose their children.
While a number of nineteenth-century universities such as Oberlin, Fisk, Wilberforce, and Ann Arbor, were liberal in their admissions policies for women, female students were relegated to taking Ladies’ courses. The Ladies’ courses consisted of literature, music, and art; classes in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek were not offered to female students. Because knowledge of classical languages and classical narratives represented cultural capital, Black writers like Eloise Thompson, George McCellan, Timothy Fortune, Ann Plato, Henrietta Cordelia Ray, and Pauline Hopkins heighten their essays, speeches, prose, and poetry with classical allusions.
Wheatley’s Niobe is offended by Latona’s directive, but she is not as enraged as the character depicted in the male versions. A third contrast between Wheatley’s Niobe poem and others’, shows that Wheatley emphasizes Niobe’s victimization. Again, while Croxall and Sandys create a story about a haughty, belligerent instigator who deserves the punishment imposed upon her, Wheatley describes the experiences of a woman who engaged in wrongdoing and receives a punishment greater than her crime. One of the most striking distinctions between Wheatley’s story and Sandys’ and Croxall’s is Wheatley’s emphasis on Niobe’s maternal connection with her children.
African American Literature and the Classicist Tradition: Black Women Writers from Wheatley to Morrison by Tracey L. Walters (auth.)