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The Little Black Boy - review.

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Introduction

~Tara Lyn Dobie, NE4~ My mother bore me in the southern wild, And I am black, but O! my soul is white; The little black boy has internalised conventional messages about black and white. The second line indicates that he has learned society's message that white means good and innocent. White as an angel is the English child, But I am black as if bereav'd of light. The third and fourth lines re-instate that he shares society's view that it is heavenly to be white; angels are close to god. Her feels like he has been given a harder lot in life in being black, that he has been denied the light of God. My mother taught me underneath a tree And sitting down before the heat of day, She took me on her lap and kissed me, And pointing to the east began to say: The illustration from the first plate shows the African mother explaining to her son, presumably already a slave; it is of innocence. The mother teaches the son to look ahead to a world to come rather than trying to transform this world through vision. ...read more.

Middle

they look forward to the infinity in the future and divinity in the mysterious God who exists, what seems, light years away. The child accepts his mother's argument that earthly life is a life of acute suffering. Nonetheless, the mother's lesson to her son is different from what her son learns. He prophesises a time of harmony, when the spiritually superior black boy will have taught the white boy the ways of spiritual love. Blake systematically presents the speech of children as being characterised by compiled conjunctions. The mother and child in "The Little Black Boy" use just such speech, implicating both mother and son in using childish language to construct a wilfully, wishfully alternative version of reality. The understanding that Blake advocates here is extremely hopeful and is wholly an acceptance based in the heavenly sphere: only "When I from black and he from white cloud free." Even the little boy listening to his mother seems to recognise that only in heaven, only "when our souls have learned the heat to bear" and God lets "the cloud" "vanish" will this sort of equality take place. ...read more.

Conclusion

And don't these lines present a picture of God's love as 'conditional' (he will love me when I am like him, i.e. white) rather than unconditional? And what of the fact that the illustration seems to contrast with the words of the poem - the two boys seem to have different coloured skin even in heaven, and only the white boy seems close enough to stroke God's hair? The first plate illustrates the state of innocence, the second, of experience. The characteristics of the second plate's drawings are found nowhere else in the Songs of Innocence. For example, the rooted tree and muddy water which is said to represent repression and man's fallen state respectively. The Christ figure, which has been identified as the 'Creeping Jesus', is the Christ of the church, of institutionalised religion. Some believe "The Little Black Boy" proves Blake to be a racist. Are we to infer that he thought the black or white race superior? Either inference can be forced out of the details of the picture and poem. The poem to most appears to be a simple piece, free from any anxiety or tension, that of innocence, but with further study one realises that it is indeed a complex work resistant to definite interpretation. ...read more.

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