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The poem Chimney Sweep is William Blakes response to the condition of the children who swept the dark, polluted chimneys for a living.

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Introduction

The poem Chimney Sweep is William Blake's response to the condition of the children who swept the dark, polluted chimneys for a living. He expounds on the horrible conditions these children face and he writes that the only solace the children will get is through death, "...he open'd the coffins and set them all free." The child who is telling the story narrates that before he finished his tender years, he had to leave the house to clean chimneys. Blake's second line says "Could scarcely cry "weep, weep, weep, and weep," is actually supposed to say sweep, sweep, sweep and sweep. However, his choice of diction, which is clever a play on words say, "weep" because these children were crying because they were still babies and the work was too hard and it entwines misery with the work they are doing. The inability of the child to pronounce the word sweep evokes pity in the reader as it shows the injustice of putting such young children in such a dangerous line of work. ...read more.

Middle

The Angel's focus on being a "good boy" and doing "their duty" shows Blake's' questioning of religion and how it brings false hope. In the poem, "being good" means Tom continuing in his forced labour which presents an open-ended conflict in the readers mind. Although Tom is reassured by the speakers efforts and the Angel's promise that "if all do they their duty they need not fear harm." The Angel is almost an agent who quietly revolts against the injustice of the enforced labour. Blake is showing the downfalls of such childish innocence as the comfort of innocence will ultimately have terrible consequences of the sweepers. As well as blaming religion for giving the young sweepers false hope of a better life, he also blames humanity in general for allowing and encouraging such a dangerous practice, "my Father sold me..." which allows the reader to realise the hopelessness of the sweeper's situation. By using the word "your" in the line "so your chimneys I sweep" implicates the reader in the exploitation as Blake claims by supporting the sweeping industry, society is encouraging the oppressive conditions in which the children live. ...read more.

Conclusion

Although in the last stanza, Blake uses sight rhymes which give the reader the sense of uncertainty the speaker feels at the angels promise as he speaks with less conviction. There is also a sense of cynicism as Blake decries the use of promised future happiness as a way of subduing the oppressed. The boys carry on with their terrible, probably fatal work because of their hope in a future where their circumstances will be set right so that they wouldn't unite to stand against the inhuman conditions forced upon them. What appears to be a condescending moral to children that are lazy is actually a sharp criticism of a culture that perpetrates the inhuman conditions of chimney sweeping on young children. Blake also criticises not only the deplorable conditions of the children but also the society, particularly its religious aspect that instead of giving aid would offer palliatives. The image of Tom Dacre and the speaker waking up from the vision and heading back into their dangerous drudgery suggests that the children cannot help themselves and it is left to a sensitive adult to help them. ...read more.

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