Term Paper: Blake the Chimney Sweeper

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William Blake

Alienation and moral degneration: the plight of humanity in a modern society in "The Chimney Sweeper" by William Blake

English poet William Blake, who became well-known for his contemplative poetry in 19th century, reflected in the collection Songs of Innocence his criticism and thoughts on various issues that plague human society during the period. Specifically centering on the poem, "The Chimney Sweeper," Blake highlights the most prevalent problem that modernization had created for 19th century: continuous poverty and the abusive nature of human labor. These social issues had been created in the midst of social and intellectual progress occurring in humanity, issues that inevitably surfaced as a result of too much focus on material wealth at the expense of human welfare. Inevitably, with the proliferation of these problems, alienation of the poor and underprivileged individual occurs, thereby resulting to moral degeneration due to society's lack of regard for its fellowmen.

This paper centers its discussion on how the poem "The Chimney Sweeper" brought into fore the themes of alienation and moral degeneration as Blake illustrated the poor working conditions of young chimney sweepers. The analysis posits that the poem presents a modernist perspective in it, reflecting the objective reality of human society as Blake had observed it first-hand. Being part of a rapidly modernizing society, Blake's poem deviated from the sentimental and subjective depiction of human life in literature, a style that did not only effectively mirrored the experiences of modern society, but had also provided a new perspective in which human experiences can be looked at from an objective viewpoint. In the texts that follow, imagery and symbolism illustrates the themes of alienation and moral degeneration in "The Chimney Sweeper."

Anderson's (2001) analysis of Blake's poetry stated the modernist stance that the poet had subscribed to in most of his 19th century poems. He described his poetry as an "idiosyncratic annihilation of an accepted world order," a condition that was indeed reflected in "The Chimney Sweeper." The poem reflected this social order because of the manifest existence of poverty and abuse described, effectively conveyed through the repeatedly-used words "sweep" ("So your chimneys I sweep...") and "weep" ("Could scarcely cry 'weep! 'weep! 'weep!"). "Sweep" represented the existence of poverty, and in effect, the alienation of young workers. This alienation was depicted as a state where the young chimney sweepers were denied their right to enjoy their youth and live a life free from any worldly worries. Indeed, Blake sadly relates to his readers the unfortunate plight of these alienated young workers, who lived life in suffering and poverty to eventually end it with unjustified deaths: "That thousands of sweepers, Dick, Joe, Ned, and Jack, Were all of them locked up… [END OF PREVIEW]

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