Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Analysis of "The Chimney Sweeper" by William Blake



By: Dianne Heath

Victims of child labor suffered in silence under dangerous and inhumane work conditions

An analysis of "The Chimney Sweeper" in the Songs of Innocence(This analysis is for Songs of Innocence. For the Songs of Experience analysis, follow the link!) by William Blake reveals a plead for social justice. In William Blake's "The Chimney Sweeper" in the Songs of Innocence there is an immense contrast between the death, weeping, exploitation, and oppression that Tom Dacre endures and the childlike innocence that enables him to be naive about his grave situation and the widespread injustice in society. Tom Dacre's imagination takes him on a lovely journey with his ultimate hope of being nurtured and cared for by His Father in Heaven. William Blake creates sympathy and sharp awareness for chimney sweeper, Tom Dacre, who represents other neglected children in poverty, by introducing his personal tragedy at the beginning of the poem. We weep with Tom as his innocence is being forcibly stolen from him. His sacrificial life to society is emphasized as William Blake shares a narrative of Tom Dacre's hair, that symbolizes lamb's hair, is shaved off. Even deeper the lamb symbolizes the Christian theme of Christ's purity, sacrifice to humanity and temporal neglect of His Father. The middle of the poem brings heartfelt smiles as we witness the pristine plain being enjoyed by children filled with laughter and happiness. However this creates more compassion and heartbreak from the reader, as Tom's intense longing to be free from suffering is more evident.

At the end of the poem, Tom is given a message to stay a good boy, which produces conflict in emotion for the reader. The reader wants to be as innocent and hopeful and believe the same message. But as corruption and the unfairness continues, the promise seems empty, impossible to fulfill and almost hurtful. We cringe as we reflect on the historic means that the powerful would use to take advantage of the defenseless, those that were economically disadvantaged and lacked high social status. We remember the psychological, political and religious philosophies and commands that morally bankrupt leaders used to encourage the defenseless to impose their own self suppression and accept the dictatorship of those in power.

However the last stanza quiets the question of the validity of the message and holds the "bright key" to unlock the true, deep message of the poem. While the rest of “The Chimney Sweeper" in the Songs of Innocence is in a simple melodic AA, BB rhyme scheme, William Blake allows the last stanza to have no perfectly rhymed end words or scheme. The author is proclaiming a lesson that cannot be ignored by using this technique to appeal to the audience. The sudden lack of rhyme is an abrupt return to the harsh realities away from the innocent and youthful fantasy that chimney sweeper Tom hopes to be fulfilled. Unlike the exciting and wistful tone of the beautiful dream with happy rhyming ends words such as key and free; run and sun; boy and joy the unrhymed words in the last stanza include dark and work. The "dark" blacks out the wonderfully colorful imagery and the drudgery word "work" ends the playing, fun and happiness. The k's provide a hard sound which creates emphasis on Tom's conditions that the author doesn't want us to forget. The author is subtly appealing for the justice of Tom and therefore he creates the same bleak feeling of the children through the choice of words such as "coffins of black". If the last stanza had the same rhyme scene of as the dream the readers would have been tempted to believe the promise of a true positive ending for Tom to maintain his blind and simple obedience.

The last two lines use the words warm and harm that appear to be rhyme by a glance due to the spelling. But the author tricks the readers and instead the words sound different. This prevents the readers from just flowing aimlessly and carelessly through the poem as if it were a delightful nursery rhyme. The interruption brings even more attention to the message. This was also done in the second stanza with head and said; "bare" and "hair" with spelling that looks differently but rhymes so that we could pay close attention. The lack of rhyme in the last stanza adds more intensity.

The lack of rhyme reflects the common theme in life that appearances often don't portray reality. Although the message of the angel brings comfort, is the messenger truly an angel and is Tom truly understanding how to conquer the trials in life? There is only a matter of time before he suffers the effects of his condition, especially in societies that crush the poor and neglect helpless children. Will Tom be able to continue to stay warm in long term? The situation is appears pleasant temporarily because of the promise and Tom's naive hope, in reality the consequences are sober and full of grief.

The lack of rhyme also purposefully and effectively creates a huge disconnect from the rest of "The Chimney Sweeper" in the Songs of Innocence. In a sense this last stanza is not just a conclusion but a separate stanza of its own. Because of the last stanza the readers are confirmed in their uncomfortable feelings about the promise and Tom's desperate desire for freedom and life. The optimistic outlook, although comforting and real to Tom, is revealed to be unrealistic on earth. Tom may not wholeheartedly understand however William Blake does comprehend the grim conditions and is appealing for social change.



References:

12 comments:

Arlee Bird said...

Welcome to the A to Z Challenge! You may want to consider adding the A to Z Badge on your sidebar to clarify that this blog is part of the challenge. You have some interesting content on your blog.
I hope you find the Challenge rewarding.

Lee
Tossing it Out

Twitter hashtag: #atozchallenge

D. Heath said...

@ Arlee Bird
Thank you! The more interesting the better :)
I also hope that I find the Challenge rewarding. Like I previously stated, I'm mainly interested in building solid relationships.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Dianne.. I like the look of your site.. and informative posts—get me thinking..welcome to the A-Z challenge..enjoy your time..Cheers Hilary
Positive Letters....inspirational stories....

D. Heath said...

@ Hilary Melton-Butcher

Thank you! That’s my main goal, to have people think about their lives and others by using themes from social science/humanities. I’m off to check out your blog now!

Anonymous said...

Very helpful!

Dianne Heath said...

@ Anonymous

I'm so happy to hear that you found my analysis helpful. Thank you for leaving a comment!!

Anonymous said...

Lack of rhyme reflects the common theme in life that appearances often don't portray reality.

Anonymous said...

Good thorough analysis!

Dianne Heath said...

@ Anonymous
Thank you!!

shrouk said...

it is realy,great

Anonymous said...

this is fantastic! enough detail but only where is is needed! brilliant!! :D great job!

Shokhan said...

Thank you so much. Very useful indeed. Way to go!