Blake - Moral Platitudes

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The difference between moral action and moral rhetoric is deeply significant, but not always particularly obvious. The collected works of William Blake draw attention to that difference, serving as, in the words of Magill, "a passionate indictment of a society that exploits the weak and at the same time hyprocritically uses moral platitudes about duty and goodness to further its selfish interests." The strength -and veracity- of Blake's "passionate indictment" is apparent in the connection between rhetoric, action and wrongdoing in four of his most acclaimed poems: 'The Little Black Boy,' 'The Chimney Sweeper,' 'The Tyger' and 'The Garden of Love.' In these works, Blake commits himself to examining the function of moral rhetoric in the lives of individuals experiencing deep suffering or wrongdoing, and, in so doing, criticizes ostensibly moral rhetoriticians --in particular, Christianity-- for failure to act in the interests of the weak. The gap between moral rhetoric and moral action is apparent in both 'The Chimney Sweeper' and 'The Little Black Boy.' In each poem, Christian moral rhetoric --which should serve as liberatory for the weakest amongst us-- creates false promises that reinforce, rather than combat, the positions of weakness from which the poems' narrators tell their stories. Through the first four stanzas of 'The Chimney Sweeper,' it appears that Christianity is fulfilling in the lives of the chimney sweepers its ostensible role as liberator of the downtrotten ("And by came an Angel who had a bright key/And he opened the coffins & set them all free"). Yet as the poem moves towards its dramatic close, it becomes clear that, far from liberating the chimney sweepers from their slavery, it merely reinforces the involuntary system of which they are part. The effect of the dream on "little Tom Dacre" is to make him believe that if he keeps quiet,
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