The chimney sweeper is a poem that is narrated by a young innocent boy condemned to child labor and not being given a chance to enjoy the thrills and adventures of childhood like other children. The author of the poem, William Blake uses first person in the poem to make the events in the poem more vivid and to evoke the imagination as well as the empathy from the reader.
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The time setting of the poem is during industrialization which was a period in history characterized by an increase in manufacturing and producing capacity of nations due to advancements in different areas of technology. Consequently there was an increased demand by companies for labor. The period was also marked by economic hardships especially for the middle and low class families. It was not uncommon to find families where all the members including children worked in industries. Although in the contemporary society child labor can still be witnessed in most countries especially third world countries, various human rights organizations more specifically the United Nations under its umbrella body of UNICEF (United Nations Children's Fund) are strongly against the act.
The poem specifically brings out the role that children played during the industrialization era and it is addressed to the rest of the humanity to actually think critically at how cruel it was to condemn children to labor. This can be seen when the narrator says that:
"So your chimneys I sweep and in soot I sleep."
The poem goes on to emphasize that the world took advantage of the innocence and hapless nature of very young children. These children had nobody to care for them as either their parents had died as the poem outlines:
"When my mother died I was very young"
Some of the children's parents were also irresponsible and actually encouraged their children to work in industries. This can be seen when the narrator says that:
"And my father sold me while yet my tongue,
Could scarcely cry weep weep weep weep"
Repetition of the word 'weep' several times implies that the children were so young that they could barely make have a say on important issues concerning their lives and they were therefore at the mercy of their caretakers.
The poem also outlines how children were used by their parents as tools of earning more income for the family; this is because the narrator informs us that he was sold at a very young age by his father.
The author manages to convince the readers that child labor actually existed because the events are narrated from the 1st person by a young child. The child speaks out of innocence and this tends to draw empathy from the reader. The narrator tells us of another child called Tom Dacre who cried when his hair that the narrator describes as, "curled like lambs" was shaved. The narrator consoles Tom that having bare head is actually beneficial because he would not have to worry about the chimney soot spoiling it. The fact that Tom cried because his hair had been shaved brings out the innocence in these children. Furthermore the solution offered by the narrator to console Tom emphasizes on the fact that these children were not only innocent but naïve too. The inclusion of this event emphasizes on the fact that the author viewed child labor during industrialization as horrible child abuse. The author using Tom's dream also outlines how widespread the act was when in his dream tom sees other boys and as the author puts it: "Thousands of other sweepers." The narrator says that the children that Tom was seeing in his dream were all locked up in black coffins meaning that their future and their fates had already been sealed and that future was not promising at all. In their minds the children thought that maybe it was a form of punishment for something they had done wrong and if they worked harder and became 'good' they would escape the horrors of child labor. This is outlined when Tom in his dream is told by an angel that if he becomes a good boy he would have: "God for his father and never want joy.
" Tom wakes up the next morning in a jovial mood because at this point he has the notion that:
"If all do their duty, they need not fear harm."
As the author outlines the only hope for the children was in their dreams because only then could they escape the ills of labor and have a chance of enjoying the thrills of childhood.
The poem is sincere having been narrated by a child and with no blames or grudges whatsoever which goes on to emphasize on the innocence of the children who were condemned to child labor during the period of industrialization. The author uses various techniques such as the poem being narrated in 1st person and the narrator telling us about a dream that Tom had. Most specifically the dream manages to evoke empathy due to the fact that it emphasizes how the children had been robbed of their childhood and in their innocent minds they still blamed themselves of their predicament.