The went to their masters. The soot

The poem “The Chimney Sweeper” is set in England, United
Kingdom in the late 18th and 19th century. It focuses on the dark background of
child labor that was prominent in England at that time. The poet uses the child
in this poem to express the image of innocence gaining experience. The Chimney
Sweeper confronts such subjects as religion, politics, and child labor. Through
this poem, the poet sheds light on the pitiable condition of the chimney
sweepers who were being exploited by their Masters. This is a poem which
describes the rampant bondage labor, child labor, exploitation of children at
tender age, and the pitiable condition of the orphaned children or the poor
children who were sold by their poor parents. In all, this
poem sarcastically attacks the advanced societies that keep their eyes shut
toward these children, but act as being generous among their near and dear ones
by holding or attending some charity shows/functions for the poor and
down-trodden people in their country. Moreover, it is surprising to note here
that these social evils even today prevail in our society. The background to
these poems is one of the many social problems that existed in Blake’s time—the
use of young children as chimney sweeps. Children were often sold at the age of
seven to work as chimney sweeps. They were badly treated, with never enough
clothes, food or housing. They were placed in constant danger of suffocating or
burning, and the soot caused cancer and other serious illnesses that resulted
in painful and early deaths.  There was
no such thing as Child Protective services like we have today. It was a brutal,
dreary existence for child chimney sweeps. Some were as young as 3 years old.
Their tiny size made them a popular choice for going down the narrow chimney
stacks. Sadly, living conditions were equally deplorable. These young chimney
sweeps would sleep in cellars on bags of soot collected from the chimneys they
swept. Often the soot would be dumped out of one of these bags and that same
bag would then be used as a blanket at night. They were often sickly, rarely
bathed, and learned to beg handouts of food and clothing from their customers
as all the money they earned went to their masters. The soot they collected was
sold to farmers for fertilizer. We may figure to ourselves, the boy called from
the bag of soot on which he slept, oftentimes walking a mile or two to his
work. We rarely observe his night toils, and battles with the literal powers of
darkness; but in the day we frequently see him, blasted with chilling cold, wet
to the skin, without shoes, or with only the fragments of them; without
stockings and his coat and breeches in scraps, and his shirt in dirty rags while
his misery is rendered more pungent by his task-master, who has no feeling of
his sorrows. 

The poem “We wear the Mask” is set in America in the late
19th century. It focuses on one of the harshest periods in history for African
Americans in United States. The oppressed black Americans were forced to hide
their pain and frustration behind a façade of happiness and contentment from
whites as to reveal their true feeling will result in dangerous retaliation.
So, it was that many blacks wore a mask that suggested happy and docile, were
in reality paradigms of suffering and strength. The year of
the poem’s publication–antipathy toward blacks was widespread in America. By
this time, the Civil War had liberated blacks from slavery and they had been
granted the right to vote, the right to own property, and so on. However, later
these legal rights were emasculated.

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For example, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1896 (Plessy v.
Ferguson) that it was legal to provide “separate but equal”
accommodations for passengers of Louisiana’s railroads. This ruling set a pattern
that led to segregated schools, restaurants, parks, libraries, and so on.
Innocent blacks were being inflicted by inhuman treatment by hate groups
including brutal beatings, lynching, and so on. Many so-called “enlightened”
or “liberal-minded” Americans looked the other way, including
law-enforcement officers, clergymen, politicians, and ordinary Americans. In
the poem, “We wear the Mask” the mask is a metaphor for a social performance
that African Americans would often put to avoid negative consequences
associated with telling the truth about their experiences with racial injustice
or their feelings about it. They smile and grin to mask their “tortured souls”
and hide their true feelings of despair, which allows them to function
throughout a prejudiced society without displeasing others. Prejudice against
blacks in America remains strong today in spite of major advances in favor of
blacks. Consequently, Dunbar’s poem remains relevant. Schools throughout
America continue to include it in curriculums. “We Wear the Mask” no longer
became a poem about the African-American experience and is now viewed as a
universal metaphor for oppression of identity.

In both poems, the poets refer to biblical ideas. In poem, “The
Chimney Sweeper”, the poet Blake refers to a platonic belief that had become
common among some Christians. He attacks the pious hope of future solace in
heaven, advocated by some Christians as a way of avoiding the uncomfortable
reality of injustice and exploitation. The church taught people to accept
present suffering and injustice on the promise of bliss and the absence of all
suffering in the next world. He opposed the teaching that condoned the
established social order without questioning it. However, in the poem, “We Wear
the Mask”, the poet believes a deep, religious faith as a saving grace to the
suffering African-American people. Once spirituality can carry them through
even most dreadful situations. This idea is evident when Dunbar wrote, “we
smile, but, O great Christ, our cries to thee from tortured souls arise.” When
all else had failed, slaves could pray and feel that God had heard, their
prayers answered, and their hearts relieved. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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