In 1848, Karl Marx became renowned for his work, The Communist Manifesto, which was considered one “of the most eloquent and undoubtedly the most influential political pamphlet ever published…” (Waugh 140). Marxism, as it later became known as, explored “the intellectual rationale of the numerous Communist and Socialist parties” (Waugh 140). The foundation of Marxist views relied on that of class struggle: “Marxist criticism must always insist upon the issue of class relations, and class struggle, in unlikely contexts no less than likely ones” (Waugh 143). Works dealing with Marxism must, then, show the difference in classes, and the struggle and plight that the lower class faces at the hand of the upper class. It was also the Marxist belief that in order to exact social change, the masses would need to come together and cause a social upheaval.
Although written prior to what became know as Marxism, William Blake’s poem London exhibits many of the qualities favored by Marxism. The poem, in its sixteen lines, centers on both the political background and the social background of London. Keeping with Marxist beliefs, it exemplifies the differences between the upper class citizens and the poverty stricken lower class. He also attacks the Church and the Palace for contributing to the plights of those on the lowest spectrum of society. Blake starts his poem with
I wander thro’ each charter’d street,
Near where the charter’d Thames does flow,
And mark in every face I meet
Marks of weakness, marks of woe.
Immediately, Blake has us wandering through the charter’d street, wandering through the charter’d Thames. Here, “charter’d” can mean “founded, privileged, protected by charter” (Oxford English Dictionary). With the use of this word, we see that even the streets are owned by the state; that even the smallest aspects of life are controlled by the state. On top of that, not only are the streets owned by the state, but the River Thames is also under their control as well. With this, Blake shows the oppressive nature of capitalism, and the iron fist it wields. In lines three and four, Blake describes the people that we pass, and how they are marked with weakness and grief. The repeated use of the word “mark” works to reinforce the despair that the people of London are going through.
In the second stanza, Blake writes,
In every cry of every Man,
In every Infant’s cry of fear,
In every voice, in every ban,
The mind-forg’d manacles I hear.
Here, we see that no one is free from the oppression of capitalism – it affects everyone from men to infants;...