The Little Black Boy – Critical Analysis
In the collection of tantalizing poems by William Blake, “The Songs of Innocence” (Published in 1789), is a romantic lyric poem titled “The Little Black Boy.” The poem explores the issues concerning racism and slavery through imagination, emotion, and subjectivity. At a period when the whites rampantly oppressed the blacks, Blake used his humanism to portray an image of a black woman and child as the guardians of selflessness and purity of that forms the core of Christianity. The Little black boy despises his skin color since it appears to him that it deters the world from acknowledging the purity of his soul. This paper attempts to critically analyze “The Little Black Boy” as a romantic piece of peom, concluding that although the poem’s interpretation might be rendered as ambivalent, it emotionally and imaginatively emphasizes on the ‘perfect love’ philosophy of Christianity.
Critical Analysis of The Little Black Boy
This poem presents spiritual awakening to a divine love that transcends the racial divide. Blake has founded the poem on clear imagery of light and darkness. The contrast between the child’s black skin and his belief in the whiteness of his soul and lend poignancy to the child’s problem of self-understanding. Because black and white was associated with evil and good, the child’s developing sense of self requires him to perform a relatively elaborate symbolic gymnastics with these images of color. His statement as if black and bereaved life underscore the gravity of the problem. Therefore, the gesture of his song would be to counteract this in a way that shows him to be as capable and as deserving of perfect love just as a white person is.
One the other hand, the child’s mother symbolizes the selfless and natural love that enhances the poem’s ideal. She shows a tender concern for the child’s self-esteem, as well as a strong desire for his knowledge of God’s comfort. She convinces him, according to the conventional Christian doctrine, that life on earth is only a preparation for the eternal life in heaven. In this context, their skin color is but a fleeting appearance with no bearing on eternal life. Skin color, which is a factor only in this human life becomes trivial from the perspective of heaven. Black and white, earth and heaven, body and soul, are all arranged in a rhetorical gesture that essentially affirms the position of Christian humility. The theology of the poem recommends forbearance in the present and guarantees a recompense for suffering in the hereafter.
The little black boy internalizes his mother’s teaching and applies it in relation to the outer world. Particularly, Blake reveals to us what happens when the black boy applies it to his relationship with the white child. However, the results are ambivalent. Not only does the boy explain to his white friend how they are equal, but also affirms that neither of them will attain true freedom until they are discharged from the shackles of the physical world. Furthermore, he depicts himself shading his friend from the brightness of God’s love until he can become accustomed to it. This implies that the black boy is thoroughly prepared for heaven than the white boy. Possibly because of the more prominent burden that his dark skin had paused during his life on earth. This also draws the consoling fantasy with which his mother has equipped him. It allows his suffering to become a source of pride rather than shame.
However, the little boy’s outlook and contrast to the white boy may strike the reader as containing naïve ignorance to the realities of oppression and racism, and passive acceptance of injustice and suffering. The response of the boy is not presented to the reader. Blake’s focus on this poem is on the mental state of the black child. But the question remains whether the child’s outlook is servile or self-demeaning or exemplifies Christian charity.
In conclusion, Blake has delivered a romantic piece of work, through the use of imagery, symbolism, drawing inspiration from the era of racial prejudice. While the poem emphasizes on the philosophy of Christ, and that life is something to escape from, it retains its innocence because of the belief in happiness and redemption.
Blake, W. (1789). The Little Black Boy. The Songs of Innocence.