The Negro's Complaint

Analysis, History, and Close Reading

Historical Analysis

The poem, The Negro’s complaint by William Cowper was set during the  time of slavery. It is introduced from the perspective of the slave. During this time, it was not safe for a slave themselves to speak up about being wronged, so often feelings of anti slavery were expressed through poetry instead of speaking directly to slave owners. The pro slavery advocates are the primary audience of this reading. It was to show them how the actual slaves are affected by slavery, not just them or their industry.

Cowper makes a strong statement about society at that time with this poem. It is emotional, graphic, and straight- forward. It demands the attention of the pro slavery advocates. There are questions asked and answers demanded of those that are involved in the slavery process.

The purpose of this poem is to give background on what is happening “behind the curtain” of slavery that Pro slavery activists “believe” not to see.

The act of enslavement was very prominent during the 1700s, which is the same time period that The Negro’s complaint was written. People were wrongly taken from their homes, conditions were horrible and dangerous, and people were judged and treated poorly due to the color of their skin and the misconception of the Africans’ inferiority to the whites. For example, whenever slaves would try to stand up for themselves or run away, they often were reprimanded in horrible ways such as getting one of their limbs amputated, flogging or even by being cut apart while on a spinning wooden wheel ( This poem shows emotion that was experienced by slaves during the 1700s.




During this time period numerous fleets of ships were going to Africa, taking people from their homes against their will and taking them to England and America to be enslaved in order to received free labor for crops and other farming duties. The conditions that the slaves had to deal with were horrible, from the ship to the plantations. The slaves were not treated like humans. They were stacked into ships like cargo on their way to a foreign land. There was no way for them to escape because they were just surrounded by vast amounts of ocean. While many people were taken from Africa, not all of them would make the trip because of the deplorable conditions. Diseases and illness ran ramped through the ship. Slaves were also know to commit suicide during the journey as well. In addition to the conditions, the Africans were abused and mistreated my the shi/ slaveowners. They were often forced to dance and sexually abused. (

The reason why Cowper had written this poem is because he was in support of the abolition of slavery. He did not believe in the ways of pro-slavery activists so I he used this poem as a way to get his message across. This poem depicts the view of a slave. The subject matter of this piece is very controversial considering the time period in which it was written, the 18th century.



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