Mar 24, 2020 in Literature

book The Chimney Sweeper and A Mark on the Wall


Literary works such as poems, stories, and songs are mostly a reaction of the author to an ongoing event in the society. Many times in the past, literature was a common way of addressing vices in the society. The biographic profile of an individual also shapes their perspectives on various issues in the society. Their experiences in life may provoke them to talk about various topics of interest. This essay will analyze the effect of various events in the life of William Blake and Virginia Woolf influenced their poem and story, The Chimney Sweeper and A Mark on the Wall.


William Blake’s, The Chimney Sweeper

William Blake’s began in the 18th century in the height of Industrial revolution. The Industrial Revolution lasted between the 18th and the 19th century. There were major changes in agricultures, transport, and production. These events had a significant effect on the cultural and socio-economic conditions in Britain. It changed almost every aspect of human social life. One of the worst effects of the revolution was child labor. Although the phenomenon had begun many years back, it was in full exploitation during that time. There was an increased need for workers. In addition, child labor was cheaper than adult labor. During Blake’s life, he witnessed poor parents selling their children as climbing boys, who later became master sweeps when they reached the age of five. Their masters forced them up narrow chimneys to clean them up. Their size was of great convenience as they could go up easily. Many of them died due to suffocation or lung diseases. Others got permanent deformities.

William Blake was among those who were disgusted by the matter. He was a lyric poet, who was obsessed with religion and God. He worked as an artist and a mystic. William abhorred the slavery and authority that bosses imposed. He was also against the materialism that capitalists exhibited during the period. He found child labor immoral, greedy, and ungodly. This led him to address the vice in two poems both named The Chimney Sweeper. He wrote one poems in 1789 and the other one in 1794. The poems differ in the way he captures working children in the separate poems, depending on the events during the two times.

The first poem had a harsh but idealistic perspective of the issue of child labor. He addresses the readers from the point of view of the innocent children. He showed their innocence in the midst of hostile reality. The speaker of the poem is a chimney sweeper. William says that the little boy started working when he could barely say “Weep! Weep!,” so he could not even pronounce the word “sweep” correctly (Blake). The boy he talks about is Tom Dacre, whose purity-hair was cut off. His hair curled like the back of a lamb. This description emphasizes on the innocence of the child. That night, Tom had a dream that many sweepers “Were all of them lock’p up in coffins of black.” An angel then shows up holding a bright key, alluding to heaven. He opens the coffins and lets the free. “Naked and white,” they ascend to heaven. The Angel promises Tom that if he remains a good boy, God will be his father. His dream comes to an end and Tom gets up to the cold, dark reality. Even in the misery, Tom remains “happy and warm.” William says that they do not need to fear any harm as long as they do their job. The children are hopeful. A savior will come one day and end their sorrows. The last stanza makes it clear that the children had to live with passion and positivity. The children take their brushes and bags and keep doing their work happily.

Blake’s second time comes in a critical tone. In 1794 there was a war between Britain and France. The second poem is more bitter and worldly than the first. The chimney sweeper depicted in the poem is dirty and wears no shoes. He is carrying a large sack of soot as he walks under the gray rain with a sad expression on the face. The poem is bitter as it portrays lost innocence and disownment. During Blake’s time, the cruel masters regarded children as miniature adults or slaves. Blake tries to break the notion by portraying a child as the innocent being they are. As innocent beings who deserve to enjoy their childhood with joy. The mistreated child is aware of the ones responsible for his untimely suffering. Standing alone, weeping in the snow, one child asks, “Where are thy father and mother? Say? They are praying in church”. He says that they have gone to praise God, who makes up a heaven of their misery. The statement shows the psychological impact of child exploitation. The boy manages to bring happiness to his life by dancing and singing in the snow. The overtly critical second poem shows the definite evolution occurring during Blake’s Life. It is parallel to that in Britain and the ongoing political events as the Romantic era ended. It was a bitter yet necessary evolution that had adverse effects on the most innocent people in the society.

The first Chimney Sweeper is full of joy and delight since Blake is feeling revolutionary and full of hopes and dreams for his land. He hopes that the suffering will end soon. However, in the second poem it is clear that he has no much hope left. It is dusty from the rain that falls from the grey sky. The political, cultural, and social changes between the writing of the two poems affected him profoundly. His unworldly ideas are a clear evidence.

Blake was ironic in the poem to reveal how the kids suffered in two ways. They endured physical suffering as well as emotional disturbance. It may indicate the children’s coping mechanism back in the day. Believing that they did not have to fear any harm, they could survive each day. William uses the term “dark” to emphasize that the lives of the children are miserable. The parents, who are supposed to be custodians of the kids go to pray. This ironic fact reveals the hypocrisy of the British society back then for praising God and neglecting the children. The poem has an overriding sense of allegiance, but the situational irony reveals a complicated relationship between children and their parents.

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Virginia Woolf’s A Mark on the Wall

Virginia Woolf was born in 1882 in the city of London. She had a difficult life. Just at the tender age of thirteen, her stepbrother sexually abused her. Her mother died and later her father in 1904, causing her a mental breakdown. Later, she joined Bloomsbury group, which consisted of intellectuals. The group had a significant influence on the Woolf has a strong concern for the position of women in the society. This became a critical aspect of her literary works. While she did not write about it prominently, it featured as a theme in many of her stories. One of her desires was to see equality between men and women. Her book, A Mark on the Wall was part of her short stories collection, Monday or Tuesday. She published the book in 1919.

The story was affected by events that were taking place around that time. Modernism was just beginning in London and many other parts of the world. Human relations around the world were shifting from the norm. Relationships between masters and servants, parents and children and husbands and wives were becoming different from what people were used to. The political scene was also transforming. Many writers, including Woolf were influenced by the quick pace at which London was growing. Woolf was among the ones that embraced modernism. During the period, women were fighting for feminism and gender equality immensely. It was a time when women were struggling to procure votes in political positions. The vigilance in pushing for equality was particularly more energized than any other time because the society had undermined women for a very long time. Men were prioritized in all systems in the community. Women were denied education, the right to own property and the freedom to express their views freely. They were expected to stay home and take care of their children and husbands. For a long time, they had put others first at their expense. Therefore, the story contributes to the criticisms of feminism that intend to challenge restrictive aspects of gender and inequality.

Virginia Blake illustrates feminist ideas in The Mark on the Wall. She talks about the roles of men and women. For example when she mentions Whitaker’s Table of Presidency. The “table” comes up when her main character brings the idea of standards for men and women. The list portrays the hierarchy for officials during events. Virginia claims that the table has a masculine point of view and hopes that it will be abolished soon.

The book has other illustrations to show Wolf’s thoughts about men and women. At some point, she asks, “What now takes the place of those things I wonder, those real standard things? Men perhaps, should you be a woman”. By using the word “perhaps,” the statement strongly implies that she does not support the notion totally. However, Virginia always knew that men ran the world. He believed that women should not suffer because of problems that men have created for them. She acknowledged that men made the world great but she disapproved their methods.

The ending in A Mark on the Wall makes a clear point of view concerning men and women. After the long story, that provokes contemplation and fantasy, Virginia is interrupted by a male character. He says that the mark Virginia has seen on the wall was a snail, hence ending the story abruptly. Reality sank, and the truth came out. Virginia says that the masculine point of view governs the lives of women. The woman does not go to the wall to confirm whether the mark was indeed a snail. Rather, she gets up and walks away, satisfied of the man’s perception. She ends her train of thought. It is evident that men have too much authority that women do not even argue when they talk. Women believed too much in men, explaining why they remained under their control all along. This part leaves the reader with a feeling of dissatisfaction. It seems like something is missing. This implies that Woolf is also unsatisfied with the prevailing state of affairs in the society. She thinks that there is not enough women empowerment and that makes her unhappy.

Woolf portrays women in a manner that the reader thinks they are imaginative. She questions the state of reality. The reality of men disregarding women and seeing them as unimportant and the reality imposed by imagination. The male character in the story is oppressive to the woman. She forces her to see his truth and abide by his rules. In the end, the male character says that he fails to understand the essence of a snail on the wall, even though the mark or snail drove the woman thinking deeply.


From the analysis of the two literary works, it is clear that historical political, social, cultural, and economic events can influence the ideas of an author. The ideological beliefs of a writer, their character, and upbringing also influences what they write about. Authors write new stories or poems to address ongoing issues in the society, which is a vital role in literature. For instance, William Blake’s The Chimney Sweeper poems are a reflection of the harsh reality that ensued during the Industrial Revolution. Being a religious and moral fanatic, Blake cannot help but notice the vice that is going on. He describes the suffering that the poor children go through. He Chimney sweeping was a nasty activity imposed by the rich people to poor children. The job was demeaning and dangerous as well. Children could die of lung complications due to prolonged exposures to the soot and develop deformities. Blake also expresses the complicated relationship between parents and children that prevailed in the society. Parents neglected their children went to church to pray. The Chimney Sweeper poems are about how the period of Industrial Revolution took away the innocence of children in the hands of mean, materialistic adults. Similarly, Virginia Woolf gets a lot of inspiration from the ongoing modernization and movements to promote women rights. In her book, The Mark on the Wall, she challenges women to be dependent on their own thoughts. She thinks that the structural system in the society is unfair because men make the rules while women listen quietly.


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