A Marxist reading of “The Chimney Sweeper” by William Blake
Mehdi Hassanian esfahani (GS22456)
Literary Theory (BBL 5201)
Dr. Edwin Vethamani
William Blake was always concerned about superstition and social difficulties of living in his
era, children’s education and condition, and was suspicious to the power, which had a
connection to the church. In The Chimney Sweeper (from Songs of Innocence), there is a
boy from lower class who is poor and uneducated. He was too young when his mother died
and his father sold him, like a material or a thing in a market. He couldn’t even speak when
he forced and learned to sweep the chimneys.
The class distinction is depicted in this poem, as the narrator speaks of his lifestyle.
The bunch of chimney sweepers, who seem to be young boys of the same social class,
includes poor boys like Tom, Dick, Joe, Ned and Jack. They have no power and no money.
They have no social statue as well. They do not have a family to relay upon. They are forced
to work, even if it is not pleasing or tolerable, and they cannot protest. They do not have
any financial support, and their skills are considered financially fruitless; they are, therefore,
powerless. Although there is no clue about (probably) the man in charge of these boys who
is the beneficiary of the job, their poor condition brings to the mind the presence of
someone who takes the benefits and ignores these poor workers’ situation.
The whole poem is about a false consciousness, an ideal which is presented to one of
the boys by a dream, when an angel comes and promises him a bright future of laughing
and running in green plains or bathing in rivers and shining in the sun, only if he does his job
hard and passively. The angel represents the social and religious power which asks the
workers complete and satisfactory results for their jobs, as well as their passiveness. Coming
from a dream, it can be the re-apparition of social forces in the boy’s life. The words are
what the capitalist employer asks, and what the capitalist society wants. Blake depicts the
society through the boy’s dream and the chimney sweeper’s life. He condemns this false
consciousness, the angel’s words by bringing a dramatic irony. Readers know that poor
boy’s dream is not a true promise about their future and their lives, but Tom, the boy,
doesn’t understand it. He is hopeful about the future, childishly and foolishly optimistic; he
takes the words, awakes and starts to work hard in the cold, while he feels warm and happy
Religion can be so powerful to motivate an individual to bear difficulties. In The
Chimney Sweeper, the boy believes in a celestial father who observes and counts every
single act. He has a faith (powerful to himself in the overt content and perhaps naïve to the
reader in the covert reading of the text) which is spoiled by capitalistic powers of society,
and works as a repressive ideology to motivate the boy to be passively a good worker, and
to do his duty, -nothing more. This is hidden from the boy, as he can just see the shining
bright sun and the angel’s key in the dream. He sees and feels the surface and is unable to
interpret it. The boy does what the angle has asked; to be a good worker and never want
joy. Having nothing else in the life, the boy keeps his faith, but this unaccredited dream
keeps him away from awareness of his socioeconomic oppression, and guarantees the
future of beneficial oppressors.
Blake is condemning the capitalist society by depicting awful condition and future of
these boys. He shows us some clues, to trace the oppression to the power. The dream, the
angle, the promised God and heaven are keys to show the dark side of the story. Power is
misused through religious beliefs and activities. Church is the oppressor who invites
capitalism to this classist society, and tries to keep the power for its own.