The poem The Little Black Boy by William Blake expresses the innocence and naivety that existed towards the reality of slavery and the role that religion played in enforcing the vice. William Blake delves into the idea of racial segregation and how Christianity is used to legitimize oppression and slavery through the eyes of a little black boy who seeks to speak his truth. The poet shows how the innocence of a child makes him vulnerable to exploitation in a world where race is a defining factor. The little black boy is made to accept his fate on earth where injustice and suffering is the order of the day with the promise of a better tomorrow in heaven. Blake uses a series of styles and tone to make the situation evident to readers and enable them to unders-ESatand the role of innocence and religion in the practice of slavery.
The little black boy, just like any other child first gets introduced to the reality of the world he lives in by his mother. She uses religious stories to explain to him his role in the world as an inferior being. The teachings of his mother are reflected in how he defines himself and the acceptance of his place as a slave. The little Black boy refers to himself as “black as if bereav’d of light” (Blake, line 4) showing that he was nothing and should be subject to oppression. When the black child is giving an account of his birth, he expresses that “My mother bore me in the southern wild” (Blake, line 1) showing that he was born in isolation, a place that is inferior and far from civilization. His innocence leads him to express how magnificent the white child is “White as an angel is the English child” (Blake, line 3) in light of his darkness. The black boy seeks to find himself in the world and settles for what his mother teaches him, the inferiority of his nature and the service he has towards the white.
Blake uses most of the imagery in the poem to draw reference to nature and God. The slaves found peace in knowing that there was a superior being looking out for them and a promise that they will be reunited with him someday. He is used as a comfort, to help reduce the hardships and oppression of being a slave. The black boy recounts “And we are put in the earth a little space, That we may learn to bear the beams of love” (Blake, lines 13-14). The beams of light represent God and the fact that he is there to witness their slavery and reassure them that the hardships will be compensated in the future. As the slaves receive, beams of the love light and heat are reserved for “flowers and trees and beast and men” as “comfort in the morning joy in the noonday” (Blake, line 11-12). The difference shows the insignificance of comfort in the lives of slaves and the fact they are doomed to suffering. It is ironical that the black boy is taught that while the white man’s skin reflects light, his absorbs it; thus he can bear more hardships that the white boy can. His mother further alludes that he will be able to receive God’s love more easily than the white boy since he had suffered enough on earth. Therefore the boy concludes “I’ll shade him from the heat till he can bear, To lean in joy upon our father’s knees” (Blake, line 26) illustrating that the white boy will learn to get closer to God in heaven.
The poet uses black and white colors symbolically in the poem. He uses the colors to describe both people and things. At the beginning of the poem, he uses the white skin of the English boy in comparison with an angel whereas he describes the black skin as being “bereav’d of light” (Blake, line 4). The comparison drawn between the two skins tones show just how inferior one is to the other. It draws the readers to the reality of racism. The description exalted the white skin while it belittled the African race. The mother of the black boy goes further and describes the clouds and the different roles they play with regard to their color. Blake expresses the change the black boy seeks to experience in heaven and the futility of the quest. The black boy was promised equality in heaven where he would be repaid for not all the suffering he went through on earth, but that appears to be the case. The black boy notes that even in heaven where there is no race he will be different from the white boy. The black boy will still seek approval and want to feel like he belongs ‘And be like him, and he will then love me’ (Blake, line 28). Therefore, color plays a crucial role on the society’s perception and definition of individuals.
The speaker in the poem The Little Black Boy by William Blake is innocent and naïve because he relies on the knowledge he has learned from his mother. The boy has been taught to accept his role as a slave and that his skin is inferior to that of the white boy. Furthermore, he was made to believe that his responsibility is in service to the white man and his salvation will only come in the afterlife. Blake uses the poem The Little Black Boy to express how innocence an individual vulnerable to slavery and oppression.
Blake, William. “The little black boy.” Songs of Innocence (1789).