Symbolism In The Chimney Sweeper

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In the poem, The Chimney Sweeper by William Blake (1789), the poet attempts to shine a light on the social injustice inflicted upon children by appealing to the reader’s conscience in order to free them from their nightmare existence. …show more content…
“There’s little Tom Dacre, who cried when his head, / That curled like a lamb’s back, was shaved” (5-6). Lambs are baby sheep and are usually white; the color of purity. They have symbolically been used as sacrifices in religious ceremonies and are also shorn for their wool. Like the lamb, Tom’s head is shorn; another humiliation heaped upon an innocent child in preparation for being shoved down a chimney. He too is the symbol of sacrifice simply because of the circumstances of his birth and the fact that he lives on the wrong side of the chimney. He is dragged into his new role like an innocent lamb being led to the slaughter house. The imagery of the fresh and clean young blonde child he used to be is in stark contrast to the dirty, sooty, faceless object he is forced to become with the loss of his identity and dismal future. Ironically, the speaker assumes the role of an adult by offering Tom some comfort and words of wisdom. “Hush, Tom! never mind it, for when your head’s bare, / You know that the soot cannot spoil your white hair.” (7-8). He attempts to console Tom to help him remember what he is inside and not what society is forcing him to become. Blake wrote the words of the poem as a means of letting the community know of his outrage about the practice of using children to sweep chimneys; he uses the child’s voice and perspective to force them to …show more content…
In another irony, the child speaker assumes an adult role in attempting to comfort and help Tom adjust to his new life. “And so he was quiet; and that very night, / As Tom was a-sleeping, he had such a sight, - / That thousands of sweepers, Dick, Joe, Ned, and Jack, / Were all of them lock’d up in coffins of black. (9-12)”. “Coffins of black” bring an image of the chimneys to mind along with the soot they cannot escape from. The poet uses the four names “Dick, Joe, Ned, and Jack” in the same way he used the word “weep” four times in Line 4. This could be a subtle way of conveying that these are children that Tom knew in the past who died as a result of the unsafe job of chimney sweeping and are literally, “lock’d up in coffins” (12). In the dream, he sees his lost friends as they should have been in life; playing in the light and sunshine surrounded by green instead of black. Blake wants us to realize that the speaker and Tom are not the only ones sacrificing their childhood in the “coffins”, there are “thousands of sweepers” (11) suffering, dying or already dead and by using this illustration he tries to force awareness and end the tragic practice of using children to sweep

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