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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