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Sociological Criticism Of William Blake’s Poetry

1557 words - 6 pages

Sociological criticism analyzes the political, economic, and cultural aspects of literature. To examine literature from the perspective of Marxist social theory is a quintessential form of sociological criticism, as Marxism primarily deals with political and economic ideas of communism and social inequality. William Blake, a Romantic poet, frequently wrote on the topic of class oppression and his opposition to the exploitation of the proletariat by the capitalists. Blake’s ideology and preference towards an equalitarian society quite closely mirror the theories of Karl Marx. Analyzing Blake’s poetry from a Marxist perspective paints a clearer picture of the motives behind Blake’s anger towards social inequality. Poems such as “The Chimney Sweeper” and “London” from his poetry collections Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience illustrate Blake’s despair regarding the unjust and unequal society of 18th century England. In “The Chimney Sweeper,” Blake expresses his anger at the late 18th and 19th century's use of child labor in urban England. In “London,” Blake illustrates the depressing class oppression prevalent in the streets of the city.
Often considered by scholars as the greatest pioneer of the Romantic movement in English literature, Blake's poetry consistently embraces the idea of rebellion against the abuse of class power. In his lifetime, Blake encountered both the American and French revolutions and the sense of liberation in both revolutions influenced him heavily. The negative effects of the Industrial Revolution, which further polarized the income distribution among the rich and the poor, further concerned Blake. The British Marxist historian E.P. Thompson classified Blake as having many similar beliefs as Karl Marx in his works, and showed that Blake was possibly one of the most radical opponents of the British monarchy during the English Civil War.
Many of Blake’s perspectives could be seen through Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience. Songs of Innocence celebrates the naive hopes and fears of children, whom Blake thought were the representation of good innocence before the evil distortion of adult experience. Songs of Experience illustrates the harsh live of the adult that are full of immorality, sexual repression, and secrecy. Blake illustrates the “experience,” which is marked by the loss of innocence, by political corruption, and by the oppression of Church, State, and the ruling classes, though “The Chimney Sweeper” and “London” (LaGuardia 5).
Marx once said, “Capital is dead labor.” In “The Chimney Sweeper,” the labor is the poor children who are the victims of a system, which creates class oppression through income disparity. Blake illustrates the image of a child who is victimized under the unjust social conditions created by the capitalist system. The sentence, “my father sold me while yet my tongue” (2), illustrates the abuse of child labor during that time. Under capitalism, the proletariat is unable to...

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