Summary and Analysis of The Little Black Boy by William Blake
Introduction to Poem ‘The Little Black Boy’:
The Little Black Boy is a comparatively long poem of William Blake and is a part of Songs of innocence, 1789. This poem came out when slavery was still being practiced and of course, the black people were subjected to slavery. This poem deals with subjects like racism, equality and love.
William has written this poem from the perspective of a young black boy, hence the name. The boy narrates things his mother teaches him about God’s love and equality. He through his words implies that the white people might hate him and bring him down, but he will still love other white boys like his brothers. He will be equally kind to everyone as his mother taught him that we are all one. God loves us all equally, no matter how white or black.
Structure of the Poem:
The little black boy has seven stanzas. These stanzas are heroic quatrains. ABAB is the rhyme scheme followed in the poem.
Summary of The Little Black Boy:
Following is the stanza-by-stanza summary of the little black boy.
The poem starts with the little black boy introducing himself and his origin. He tells that he was born in an African forest and that he is black. But then in the same line he mentions that the blackness of his skin does not have an impact on his soul, because his soul is white. As the color white stands for purity and innocence, the kid expresses that he has a good soul. This really captures the sad reality that black people are represented as evil and criminals, and the kid feels the need to mention that he has a good soul.
As the kid mentions white, he remembers how white and angelic looking is an English kid, and he himself seems as if he was deprived of the light. The kid thinks of himself as just a shadow, dark and as dark is associated with bad; the kid feels pity for himself. The last two lines of first stanza have a tone of sadness in them. The way the black kid talks about the white kid implies that he wished that he were angelic like him. These lines really show us the discrimination that is present in our society and how it affects little innocent children.
In the second stanza, the little black boy remembers that his mother actually gave him advice regarding his skin color. In the first half of the second stanza, he tells how he and his mom would sit under a tree in heat of the day. As trees provide shadows and are a source of peace, the poet has implied positivity on shadows. Because the boy was thinking of himself as a shadow and taking it in a negative way, so the Blake has especially presented shadow in a good way.
In the second half of the stanza, the boy recalls how his mother would take him on her lap and kiss him. She would point towards the east, because the sun rises from there and give him advice. The boy thinks about his mother with a love that shows that how her mother brought him up. It is also showing that his mother was also a good person, as opposed to what people believed at that time about black people.
In the third stanza of the poem, the mother of the little boy tells him to pay attention to the rising Sun. She conveys to him that the place from where all the light and warmth comes, that is the place where God lives. Sun is the source of sustenance for the earth and everything on it, and hence is the true expression of God’s love. God lights up the world everyday so people can wake up and do their daily work. He also provides heat, which helps keep us warm in winters and through sweating, keep us healthy in summer.
The mother explains that God does not direct His love towards anyone specific. All the creations on earth, including flowers, trees, domestic and wild animals, and people, everyone receives His light and warmth, because His love for His creation is equal. God keeps providing comfort and joy to his world throughout the day.
In this stanza, Blake is actively presenting the fact that God’s favor is without any bias or discrimination, as opposed to people’s love. No matter the form, his love is always there for everyone. Blake breaks the stereotype of that time that all Black people are criminals and not even humans by showing that the child’s mother is so gentle and believes in God. She is as human as any white person is and loves her kid and cares for his self-esteem like any mother would.
The mother’s advice continues in the fourth stanza. She exclaims to her little boy that this earth is only a small place from among God’s creation and everyone is here for a limited amount of time. We are sent here so that we may be tested, so we should learn to accept every form of God’s love. The black skin is an expression of God’s love, just as the heat of the Sun is. The Black mother is Christian and according to her faith, we are here on this earth for little time. There is a life and a world far greater and beyond this miniature earth and short life. This present life is nothing but a test for us so that God decides what our next life will be based on what we do here.
In the next half of the stanza, the little boy’s mother explains o him the reality of their black appearance. She tells him that these black bodies are temporary and for only this world. It is up to us what we make of it. We can consider it as a curse on us or just accept it as God’s love. We can be like a dark cloud that hinders the brightness of the sky, or we can be like a shady tree, which provides peace and rest.
Blake beautifully presents the idea in this stanza that everyone is the same; no one is born good or bad. God gives us choices, and it is under our own will to become whatever we want in this world. Therefore, a black person is not bad just because the color black represents bad, and a white person is not an angel just because white stands for purity.
In the first line of this stanza, the mother explains that we have to go through this life, and accept whatever God gives us, may it be suffering. Because in the end, a time will come when we will have passed from all the tests and this life will end. Then, when the cloud will disappear, meaning this life will finish, we will hear our Lord’s voice. The cloud here can represent the ignorance of people, or the deceptiveness of appearances. According to Christian belief, the suffering of this life will result in an award in the other life. Therefore, the mother is encouraging her child to be hopeful. They might suffer here because of their color, but it will cause them to be nearer and more lovable to God in the next life.
In the second half the stanza, the mother tells the child how God will welcome them in their next life. He will tell them to come out of their worldly bodies into the eternal love and care of His. Our bodies in this world are a prison for our souls, so the mother implies that God will free our souls from these temporary bodies in our next lives. Because of this, we will express and be our true selves, and enjoy the endless blessings of God.
In the last line of this stanza, mother says that God will take us around His golden tent, meaning His mighty throne. There we will enjoy like lambs. Now lambs are used in the Christianity as a reference to the Christ. Just as lambs are innocent and pure and are sacrificed, according to Christian belief, Christ was also sacrificed for others. Furthermore, he was a Messenger so he was pure and innocent. Therefore, the mother expresses that in the next life, there will be no bad, we will all enjoy around God’s glory and will be showered with His love. All of this will be possible if we accept ourselves and be thankful for what God has given us in this life.
This stanza starts with showing the love and affection of the little boy’s mother towards him and yet again shatters the concept of that time that black people are evil. Now in this stanza, the little boy has internalized the advice of his mother. Her words have such a positive impact on him that he wants to share those ideas with others. He wants to spread this message of oneness of humanity. He tells the white child that they will both be free from these worldly bodies one day. That will be the time when everyone will gather round God as equals and God will give His love to everyone equally. There will be no discrimination, no judgment based on worldly appearances, and everyone will enjoy God’s mercy.
William uses the word cloud again in this stanza to refer to how temporary this life and its affairs are. He is taking people’s attention towards the life of eternity hereafter and wants them to rise above discrimination.
In the first line of the last stanza, the black boy shows love and care for the white boy. Even though the white people have hatred towards black people, the black boy will not stop loving, because he knows how it feels like to be unloved and rejected. He says that he will shade the white boy from rays of Divine Love until he learns to bear it. His mother said that Sun and heat are God’s forms of love. So due to enduring heat of Divine love in this world, the black child will be better prepared to stand before God than the white child does. The black kid will protect the white kid until he gets comfortable and used to the Divine Love. Then they will play around Heaven and enjoy God’s company.
The black kid will still love the white kid in heaven and stroke his hair with compassion and care. He will make him feel accepted and loved. Moreover, when both of them have learnt to bear God’s Love, they will become alike and the white boy will then love the black boy back. The ending of the poem expresses how we all crave love and acceptance. We need love to function in the society. Whatever we do is driven by the thought that people will like us and will accept us.
Blake wants us to know that if we spread love, we will all be alike and the world can be as wonderful as it will be in heaven if we stop discriminating.
Analysis of the Little Black Boy:
Blake wrote the little black boy with such wonderfulness and cleverness. He addresses the most important issue in society of that time by making an innocent child his mouthpiece. Such content can be offensive and be misinterpreted but through a child’s innocence, Blake took care of that. Blake talks about racism through a child’s perspective so that people would listen and empathize with an innocent child. The poem deals with the struggles of black people in white society and the personal self-esteem issues.
The little black boy tells about his ethnicity in the start of the poem by indicating towards southern wild. Now this tells us that how the place he was born in is associated with wilderness, and hence people from there are considered uncivilized and inferior. At the time Blake wrote this poem, black people were enslaved, the white people treated them as non-humans or as some filthy creatures. Blake, in only the opening line of the poem, paints the reality and horror of the situation in this clever way.
Now the child goes on to express how he feels he is deprived of the light because of his black color. He feels like no one can see his pure and white soul beyond his black body, as opposed to the white boy who looks like an angel. This is so true, as we are always judging others based on their outside appearances. Of course, the black boy’s mother is aware of his low self-esteem. He proceeds on telling his mother’s advice through which he can bear the struggles of the world and has some peace in his heart.
The mother tells how the worldly appearance that we obsess over is temporary and God, our creator, does not judge us based on it. To God, everyone is equal, black or white it does not matter. She also tells him about the Christian belief that the sufferings black people are enduring in this life are going t make them closer to God in the next life. The purity of child, and love, concern and moral beliefs of the mother are all to portray that black people are as human as white people are. They appear different only because of being born in a different climate and it has nothing to do with the goodness of their soul.
Another thing to notice is that the black boy shows the attributes of love and care towards the white boy, even though he knows that white do not like black. Still, he is choosing to love white boy because he knows that God loves everyone equally. The black boy presents the ideas of afterlife to the white boy as well. He, also in his innocence, thinks that maybe around the tent of God the Sun will be brighter, which is a symbol of God’s love. Therefore, he tells the white child that he will protect him from the heat until the white child learns to bear it. Black accept the heat of Sun or God’s love in this world, therefore, when the white child will learn to bear it as well, they will become identical. By this, the black boy thinks that the white boy will finally love him, as they will be same. The closing words of the poem show how we all want to be loved and accepted by others. If a person is rejected by society, he gives up all hopes of living. The black people are not only rejected but also on top of that tortured for their appearance in inhuman ways by the privileged white people. However, God has created everyone equal; the Sun shines equally on every person. It does not decide whom to shine upon based on their appearances. If our Lord is not discriminating on how people look, then who are you and I to judge?
Blake’s poems have always carried a deeper message for everyone and this poem is no different. Blake keeps breaking all the myths and racist beliefs throughout The Little Black Boy and giving new perspective to think from.
Major Themes in the Poem:
The major themes of the little black boy are Divine love, equality, racism and afterlife. Blake shows how racism affects children at an early age and it tarnishes their self-image. This poem deals with heavy topics in such a light manner and with the tone of love and compassion. It promotes the idea that no matter how hard life gets, how much hatred is around, always choose to love. God loves everyone equally so if we want to be close to him in afterlife, then we better focus on our morals rather than exterior looks.
Symbolism in the Little Black Boy:
The symbols used the little black boy are as follows:
Lambs represent meekness and innocence.
Angel is a symbol of goodness and purity of soul.
White symbolizes light, purity, decency and superiority.
Black is associated with darkness, evil and inferiority.
Cloud represents a hurdle in the way of seeing things clearly. It also represents our temporary bodies in this poem.
Sun is symbolizing Divine Love, which is alike for everybody.