A Critique Of Early Capitalism In William Blake's London

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The poem “London,” is full of images and symbols. In the very first stanza of the poem, the word “chartered” represents both, London’s streets as well as the Thames River. Blake specifically uses the word chartered to write a critique of early capitalism. Royal charters granted rights to corporations, universities and other bodies. Blake objected to that growing power through taxation, that merchants, financiers and aristocrats were enjoying and to the financial inequality that resulted due to this system. As the speaker wanders, he notes “marks of weakness, marks of woe” among the citizens. Although, many Londoners are cursed with pockmarked faces from illness, “marks” also evokes the mark of the Beast from the book of Revelation.
Widespread Conformity
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No respite is given to anybody, the cries of both adults and infants are heard by the speaker. He describes “every voice, in every ban,” as “the mind-forg 'd manacles.” This creates a visual of a people in metaphorical chains created by collective conformity to the status quo. The word “bans” references marriage bans, including even young betrothed couples in the numbing conformity.
Exploited Youth
In the third stanza, the word “hear” is directly related to the cries of the children and the chimney sweepers who are forced to work in a utilitarian society. One can easily visualize from the word “hear” the cries and the sigh of the children, chimney sweepers and the soldiers alike. Churches become sooty not only literally, but also metaphorically through the Church of England 's downplaying of the shameful child labor system. English soldiers in the 1790s were, like chimney sweeps, treated brutally. The blood of these young men metaphorically stains royal residence walls.
Women
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