The Chimney Sweeper

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A Marxist reading of The Chimney Sweeper by William Blake

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The Chimney Sweeper

  1. 1. 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 [1]
  2. 2. 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 inside. 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. [2]

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