Songs of Innocence and of Experience
Ideological Implications of Language in Modernist Literature College
William Blake’s “Little Black Boy,” Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market,” James Joyce’s “The Dead” and Sarah Kane’s Blasted each demonstrate how a writer’s use of language can give us intimate access to the time period that in turn informs the writer’s choices.
Emerging out of a period where writers were creating anti-slavery literature, Blake’s “Little Black Boy” moves beyond a critique of physical abuse to examine the subtle ways in which people normalize racist attitudes. The malleable mind of a child provides the perfect breeding ground for these attitudes.
In the poem, the boy’s mother explains his skin color by telling him “and we are put on earth a little space/ that we may learn to bear these beams of love/ and these black bodies and this sunburnt face/ is but a cloud, and like a shady grove” (Blake 14-16). The narrator uses the references to the sun and clouds to naturalize racial differences. The word choices—“learn,” “beams of love,” “a little space”—take on the patient, instructive tone of a mother teaching a lesson to her child in a form that is both simple and comforting. The narrator demonstrates how language is deployed not only to promote but to internalize oppression.
Rossetti’s “Goblin Market” uses lilting,...
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