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Themes in The Chimney Sweeper

The Inevitable Loss of Innocence: “The Chimney Sweeper” is the first poem in Songs of Innocence and Experience in which Blake portrays the corrupting nature of experience. Throughout the poem, Blake describes the chimney soot spoiling the pure, white-haired of the boys—Tom, in particular. This soot represents the corrupting nature of child labor. The chimney sweepers, once innocent and joyous children, are now tainted with experience.

The Harmful Side of Redemption: The angel promises redemption in the eyes of God to the chimney sweepers. However, there is a price to this redemption. The angel states that if each child is a “good boy,” then he will want for nothing in the afterlife. For these children, who work as chimney sweepers under extremely inhumane conditions, being a “good boy” means following the rules set out for them. It means being obedient and accepting this terrible fate. Blake is pushing back on the doctrine of obedience, questioning whether or not obedience is a fair price for redemption. Blake also questions the practice of hoping for a paradisiacal afterlife and thereby accepting a miserable earthly existence.

Themes Examples in The Chimney Sweeper:

The Chimney Sweeper

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"if he'd be a good boy, He'd have God for his father, & never want joy...."   (The Chimney Sweeper)

In these lines we encounter the price of redemption: obedience. Not all can be absolved of sin. The joys of heaven are reserved for “good boy[s]” who follow the rules set before them. One can begin to see the harmful side of the hope for redemption.

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"You know that the soot cannot spoil your white hair.'..."   (The Chimney Sweeper)

The metaphors Blake uses in this stanza attune us to the central theme of Songs of Innocence and of Experience: innocence and the loss thereof. While most of the poems in the first half of the collection—see “Spring” or “Blossom”—tell of untouched innocence, “The Chimney Sweeper” introduces the tainting touch of experience.

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