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Allusion in The Chimney Sweeper

Christian Tradition: Blake relies heavily on allusions to Christian iconography and narratives. In the fifth stanza, he describes the chimney sweepers in Tom’s vision as “naked and white.” This alludes to traditional European Christian art, which often depicted angels and the newborn Jesus as naked and pale to show their purity and innocence. Blake also alludes to the central philosophy of redemption in the Christian tradition with the arrival of the angel. In the speaker’s dream, the angel retrieves the chimney sweepers from their coffin and guides them back to heaven. The angel redeems the chimney sweepers from their mundane suffering by escorting them to heavenly joy. The connection between Christianity and child labor is deliberate, as many English workhouses were run by parishes. In light of this connection, Blake expresses skepticism towards the prospect of Christian salvation for chimney sweepers, whose conditions remain miserable.

Allusion Examples in The Chimney Sweeper:

The Chimney Sweeper

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"Then naked & white, all their bags left behind,..."   (The Chimney Sweeper)

Nudity is another metaphor for a return to innocence. In Christian iconography, angels, cherubs, and the infant Jesus are all typically portrayed as naked to denote their complete purity. The leaving behind of baggage is another powerful metaphor. In Christian theology, redemption is a movement of the soul and requires an abandonment of the body and materiality. Thus, enlightenment takes on both luminous and physical registers: a shift from darkness to light, as well as a lightening of one’s load.

"And by came an angel, who had a bright key, And he opened the coffins, & set them all free;..."   (The Chimney Sweeper)

The arrival of the angel draws on the Christian narrative of redemption. One of the central philosophies in the Christian tradition is that the toils and pains of human existence are fleeting compared to the joys of the afterlife. The angel serves as an agent of heavenly redemption for the chimney sweepers in their state of earthly suffering. The “bright key” is the solution to the black coffins.

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