In “The Chimney Sweeper” William Blake utilizes the elements of imagery, irony, symbolism, and allusion to portray the harsh reality of child labor through the outlook of a child imprisoned in it. In the eighteenth century, child labor in England was a big social issue and William Blake did not stand for the cause, which he expressed in the poem through the perspective of the speaker-a young chimney sweeper.
Most children that were subjected to child labor were done so do to their parents’ inability to provide for them in such hard times, such as the late eighteen hundreds. The reader can assume the speaker’s situation to be similar seeing that his mother died when he was at a very young age (Blake 1). In addition, the reader gets a sense of how young the child was when he was sold to work as a chimney sweeper through the imagery of sound, “my father sold me while yet my tongue/ Could scarcely cry” ‘weep, ‘weep, ‘weep, ‘weep!””(Blake 2-3). The scarce cry of “’weep” is supposed to represent a child at a young age who has trouble pronouncing his s’s. In other words, the speaker was attempting to say “sweep.” The poet uses this imagery of sound to make the reader fully aware of how young and helpless this speaker is. Furthermore, in crying “weep” literally, the poet is presenting a tone of sadness, as weeping can be defined as crying uncontrollably. By adding this image of a young child crying or who cannot properly speak, the poet leads the reader to feel guilt on behalf of the child, which in turn serves as evidence of how cruel child labor was.
As a result of sweeping chimney’s these children would be cloaked in soot, which is a black flaky substance that is hazardous (Soot). The speaker mentions that he “sleeps in soot”, because as a literal reference child laborers did not get to shower or bathe very often (Blake 4). The image of a child covered in a black substance as he sleeps seeps into the mind of the reader, which gives the reader a taste of how these children’s lives were. Furthermore, the soot also has a symbolic meaning, which stands for death. For instance, the thousands of sweepers are locked up in coffins of black in Tom Dacre’s dream, which represents the soot being the cause of their death (Blake 12). The symbolic meaning as well as the literal meaning illustrate some of the hardships these child laborers had to endure, which allows the reader to distinguish the inevitable early death these children face.
The speaker introduces Tom Dacre as a laborer who just started as a chimney sweeper to portray a child’s innocence. His hair is compared to that of a lamb when it is shaved, which serves as an allusion of the catholic religion (Blake 5-8). A lamb is a young sheep by definition, but in the catholic religion the “Lamb of God” represents the...