Mind Forged Manacles
What are the "mind foraged manacles" in Blake's "London"?
I understand that the "mental handcuffs" is the idea that suffering is created from within. I wonder if I am correct in asserting that Blake viewed prostitutes, soldiers and chimney sweepers as being obstacles to their own freedom or potential? That they are not able to surpass their "lot in life" because of these mental contrictions? Am I on the right track or completely off-base? Any help greatly appreciated.
In his poem about London, William Blake cries out against privilege, rank, wealth, church and establishment on behalf of the poor, the destitute and the enslaved. I think you are definitely on the right track, and some deeper research into the hsitorical context of the poem set in the filthy city streets of London at that time would benefit you even more. The words 'mind-forged' are reminiscent of two things. Firstly, the word 'forged' suggests eternity and the world of manufacturing, technology and industry - such as that in a blacksmith's forge. Eternity is suggested by the lasting 'weld' or 'imprint' that forging gives. Blake suggests that 'manacles' are forged for ever in these people's minds, as well as in their daily environments and experiences. The hurdles, blocks and challenges to progress, either spiritual or practical, are a permanent mental block of disadvantage.
Blake's “London,” from Songs of Experience, is a denunciation of the mind-forged manacles, that is, of man-made repressive situations, not a denunciation of cities and a glorification of rural life. The church assists in exploitation by promises of an eternal reward, the monarchy slaughters men for private gain, and marriage drives the unmarried (or the unsatisfactorily married) to harlots. “Chartered” (line 2)—not merely mapped but also licensed—is perhaps almost acceptable for streets, but that the river, an image of freedom, should also be chartered is unnatural and intolerable.
Also, children are licensed (as chimney sweeps), soldiers are licensed (to kill and to be killed), and prostitutes are licensed (bought and sold).
A few additional points. The church is “blackening” because (1) it is covered with the soot of an industrial (mechanistic) society; (2) it is spiritually corrupt; and (3) it corrupts people. The chimney-sweeper’s cry appalls the church because the cry is a reproach, and “appalls” hints at “pall” (suggestive of the dead church) and at its literal meaning, “to make pale,” that is, the hypocritical church is a whited sepulcher. In line 14, “the youthful Harlot’s curse” may be a cry (thus linked with the infant’s cry, the chimney sweeper’s cry, and the soldier’s sigh), or it may be the disease that afflicts her and is communicated to others.