What are the themes of "The Human Abstract"?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The Human Abstract,” which William Blake offered as a satiric counterpart to “The Divine Image” in Songs of Experience , critiques virtues such as mercy, peace, and love. Rejecting the notion of these divine qualities, Blake instead focuses on the theme of self-interest as a motivation...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

The Human Abstract,” which William Blake offered as a satiric counterpart to “The Divine Image” in Songs of Experience, critiques virtues such as mercy, peace, and love. Rejecting the notion of these divine qualities, Blake instead focuses on the theme of self-interest as a motivation for behavior. He shows that truly good, moral behavior is all-too-easily corrupted by false incentives to action. The theme of human intent dominates his exposition of the endorsement of virtues: man, not the gods, is the source of such behaviors.

The specific themes that he analyses by following this line of thought include peace versus war. Peace, Blake proposes, is not a natural occurence; humans will it into existence through their fear of war. A related theme is the human capacity for self-deception. In our desperate need to believe that our actions are properly motivated, we humans invent divine inspiration for actions that, when scrutinized, prove to be morally indefensible.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team