Describe the London of William Blake.

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e-martin | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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William Blake's poem, "London," presents a stark and bleak image of England's capital city. Dark and oppressive, the city is both the stage and the mechanism of indoctrination, crushing the spirit of individuality. 

One of Blake's most quoted phrases relates directly to this idea of indoctrination -- "The mind-forg'd manacles" -- and it is in this phrase that we find the key to the poem. 

The city is a place where individuals despair or give away their individuality. For reasons of economics, politics and religion, the figures that populate this London cry out or sigh in ways that signify the loss of individuality and the victory of systemic indoctrination. 

How the Chimney-sweepers cry
Every blackning Church appalls, 
And the hapless Soldiers sigh
Runs in blood down Palace walls
 
All the figures in the poem are categorical, described merely with categorical monikers (mainly by profession). There are no true characters, but only, it would seem, cogs in a machine. 
 
In a long essay on William Blake, Alfred Kazin observes that Blake is set against systems of conformity. 
 
Blake is against everything that submits, mortifies, constricts and denies.
 
Kazin goes on to write that Blake's "London" is a statement on "the modern inhuman city" of his day, which "isolated man in the net which men have created." 
 
"In the modern city man has lost his real being, as he has already lost his gift of vision in the "fathomless and boundless" deep of his material nature" (Kazin). 
 
London then is a place where material concerns reign, organized and ruled by systems of conformity and internalized norms to such an extent that the life of an individual is compromised. Not even a baby can comfortably be itself but instead feels the pressures and the weight of the "mind-forg'd manacles" that shape the life of the city into a uniformity of marriage, religion and work.
 
In an era of apprenticeships and highly organized professional life, Blake's experiences as an individualist and as a former apprentice engraver may have colored his views of the city that best represented the forces of commerce and conformity that he spoke out against. 
Sources:
snehasmia777's profile pic

snehasmia777 | eNotes Newbie

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London is a real story or not?

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e-martin's profile pic

e-martin | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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No. The poem is descriptive of a view of London but relies heavily on a figurative perspective. 

While the poem may be an honest and therefore truthful representation of Blake's views of the city (and what it symbolizes), the poem is not a "true story" in the sense of being an accurate telling of actual events.

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