Blake’s Plead for Social Justice
In William Blake's "The Chimney Sweeper" in the Songs of Innocence there is an intense contrast between the death, weeping, exploitation, and oppression that Tom Dacre endures and the childlike innocence that allows Tom to be gullible enough to believe his life is somewhat fair and or just. With Tom Dacre's imagination, he is able to use the idea of his ultimate hope of being nurtured and cared for by his father in Heaven as motivation to continue living in such an unjust situation and society. Straight out of the gate Blake creates a sense of sympathy and awareness for the main chimney sweeper, Tom Dacre. With an introduction through tragedy, the reader gets their first idea of how one might become a chimney sweep: “When my mother died I was very young, / And my father sold me while yet my tongue / Could scarcely cry …”(lines 1-3). Almost immediately the reader feels for Tom as we watch his innocence is being forcibly stolen from him. His sacrificial life to society is emphasized as 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 told to if he remains good, as a reward he will be granted the joy being reunited with his father and God, which produces conflict in emotion for the reader. The reader wants feel as hopeful and as naive to believe of such a promise. However, looking at the bigger picture, it is incredibly difficult to justify the actuality of what it means to be a chimney sweep. At such a young age, often five and up children would work long hours inhaling soot, climbing high and tight chimneys, often resulting in many dying. With the knowledge of corruption and the unfairness, the promise seems empty, nearly 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. The psychological, political and religious philosophies aimed to aid the wealthy and keep the poor in their place with no right to argue or disobey, because “… if all do their duty, they need not fear harm” (line 24). In present time, most would not dare imagine having to sell their own child into a potential living hell.