Diction and Imagery in Blake’s “The Chimney Sweeper”
Children are now welcomed to earth as presents bundled in pinks and blues. In the 1800’s children were treated as workers straight from the womb. Children trained early in age to perform unbearable tasks (Ward 3). Imagine how it felt to be unwanted by a parent and sold to a master who also cared nothing about them. Many children earned a few pennies by becoming chimney sweeps or working in the streets running errands, calling cabs, sweeping roads, selling toys or flowers and helping the market porters (Ward 3). The young children did not have much choice on which job (life) they wanted, but by far sweeping chimneys was the most dangerous. The children were forced into confined areas filled with comb webs, where they sacrificed their lives to clean. William Blake does a great job depicting hardship of children in the 1800’s in “The Chimney Sweeper” through the use of diction and imagery. Starting with the first stanza, Blake creates a dark and depressing tone. He uses words such as died, weep, soot, and cry to support this tone. In the first two lines the child shares his family with us, stating his mother’s death and the fact that his father sold him sharing that the child must come from a poor background “When my mother died I was very young, And my father sold me while yet my tongue”(Lines 1-2). The image of a poor child getting tossed into another unhappy place sets the tone for the beginning of this poem. Blake uses the word “weep”, instead of “sweep” in the first stanza to show the innocence of the child “Could scarcely cry weep weep weep weep”(3). The fact that the child cried “weep” instead of sweep shows that the child could not be any older than four. Blake describes that they sleep in soot also meaning they are sleeping in their death bed. The average life span of children who work in chimneys is ten years due to the harsh work environment. The child portrays sorrow in the last line of...
Cited: Harrison, James. “Blake’s The Chimney Sweeper.” The Explicator Vol. 36 (1973).
Kennedy, X.J., and Dana Gioia. Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and Writing. 10th ed. New York; Longman, 2007.695.
Ward, Peter. “Children in the 1800’s.” 2004.22 Feb.2008 .
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