William Blake: a Marxist Before Marxism

Topics: William Blake, Marxism, Chimney Pages: 5 (1953 words) Published: October 16, 2006
In his poem, "The Chimney Sweeper", William Blake displays the despondent urban life of a young chimney sweeper during the coming of the industrial revolution in order to emphasize the theme of innocence through Marxism and to inform people of the harsh working conditions during the times of child labor promoting political reform. William Blake was born in London on November 28, 1757, to James and Catherine Blake. From early childhood, Blake spoke of having visions. He learned to read and write at home. Blake expressed a wish to become a painter, so his parents sent him to drawing school. Two years later, Blake began writing poetry. One of Blake's assignments as apprentice was to sketch the tombs at Westminster Abbey, exposing him to a variety of Gothic styles from which he would draw inspiration throughout his career. After his seven-year term ended, he studied briefly at the Royal Academy. He married an illiterate woman named Catherine Boucher. Blake taught her to read and to write, and also instructed her in draftsmanship. Later, she helped him print the illuminated poetry for which he is remembered today. Reviewers criticized his physical representation of spiritual happenings and supposed visions as a part of theological insolence, Blake's love for creativity and imagination updates his conception of a personal cosmology that supports both his lyric and visionary poetry. Blake's poetry reflected early proclamations of Marxist topics even though Marxism had not even been documented as a theory. In order to present the theme of innocence throughout the poem, the rhyming pattern of this poem is maintained in quatrain form allowing it to create a mood of innocence with the rhythm of a child-like song. Because the poem is being told from a child's perspective, Blake's diction remains rudimentary using words like "weep" (Blake) displaying the literary element known as onomatopoeia to convey a mood of unhappiness, and at the same time, bring sympathy to the reader informing them of the harsh realities of child labor. During the latter part of the 18th century and early 19th century, owners of cotton mills collected orphans and children of poor parents throughout the country, obtaining their services merely for the cost of maintaining them. In some cases children five and six years of age were forced to work from 13 to 16 hours a day. A Royal Commission investigated how children from the bottom of the social class ladder were forced to work in mines and collieries. The commission discovered that children began working in their very early years of life; however, most children began working at the ages of 5 and 7. The coal burning chimneys were so small that only young children could fit inside them. Starting around 5 years old, they had to learn to knee and elbow their way up the insides of these chimneys, always sore and bleeding until they formed protective callouses. Their heads were shaved to make it easier to get up and down, but many still got stuck and suffocated. They were even sent up lighted chimneys. By the time they were 12 or so they were useless to the master and to anyone else. Occupational hazards were bone-softening diseases, bowlegs from malnutrition and carrying heavy bags, and cancer of the scrotum. Many children were often critically injured, contaminated with serious illnesses or diseases and, in some cases, some children even experienced fatalities. These children suffered "twisted spines and kneecaps, deformed ankles, eye inflammations and respiratory illnesses, and were only allowed to bathe a few times a year". ("Factories and Mines: Report on Child Labor, 1843") An ailment known as "chimney sweep's cancer" commonly appeared on the scrotum from the constant irritation of the soot on their naked bodies. The commission also found that many children were even employed or forced into labor by their parents in an attempt to increase annual family income. Because the wages given to the children was not as...

Cited: 2000. 1174-1178.
Bressler, Charles E. Literary Criticism: an Introduction to Theory and Practice.
Upper Saddle River: Pearson Education, 2003
"Factories and Mines: Report on Child Labor, 1843." . 8 November 2005.
Nurmi, Martin K. "Fact and Symbol in ‘The Chimney Sweeper ' of Blake 's Songs of Innocence." Blake: A Collection of Critical Essays. Northrop Frye ,ed. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1966.
"William Blake." DISCovering Authors. Online Edition. Gale, 2003. Student Resource Center. Thomson Gale. .22 November 2005.
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