An examination of William Blake's "Little Black Boy" and "Chimney Sweeper."

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Both of William Blake's poems

were set in the same time period when children's rights were not taken into account. The distinction is that the little black boy was cherished dearly by his mum, who instilled in him great virtues of tolerance, empathy, and inclusion in the conviction of a benevolent being who cared and looked after all regardless of their skin color or the rights they might have on earth. In equal measure, the white boy who worked as a chimney cleaner was not cared for by his aunt, who sold him before the boy could learn to talk or even comprehend what it meant to be enslaved and miserable. Both boys have parents, but one of them loves the boy enough to teach him right from wrong while the other cares less for his boy and sells him off to clear the father’s suffering in poverty.

Also, the two poems have themes

that dwell on the slavery and misery that existed at the time. For the black boy, this brought about racial discrimination a such that he realized at an early age that he and the “white boy” are indeed different and could only be equal in an afterlife - “Look on the rising sun; there God does live.” The chimney cleaner was also in slavery since he was sent to a life of misery to clean soot in chimneys ensuring he wouldn’t live long. The boys also have a belief in an afterlife where they will be free from the ‘black tombs’ they are in. The contrast in this theme is that the little black boy is born into slavery while the chimney cleaner is sold into it – “And my father sold me while yet my tongue.”

The imagery used

like the “sleeping in soot” – “Were all of them locked up in coffins of black;” and black color of the little black boy’s skin are similar in saying the children both live in miseries and tomb-like lives that they will be delivered from. However, their acceptance of the kind of lives they live in are different in that, the little black boy believes that his soul is clean – “And I am black, but O! my soul is white” and thus he will have a place with God while the chimney cleaner is of the idea that he just “has to do his job” so as to get to a better life later on - “So if all do their duty, they need not fear harm”.

The central message

in both poems is the unfortunate way that the little children have to face miserable lives and learn to reconcile with the situation at an early age. “The black boy,” however, centralizes on the equality of human beings before God no matter the color of their skins be – “When I from black and him from white cloud free, and round the tent of Godlike lambs rejoice.” “The chimney sweeper” gets into the reality of child abuse, labor, and slavery at the time with children having very little to look forward to in their young lives – “That thousands of sweepers, Dick, Joe, Ned, and Jack.”

November 03, 2022



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