William Blake’s “Little Girl Lost” exposes authority for being predators that feast on those who lack power in order to urge the vulnerable to break the cycle of power and realize the danger around them. The images of the lion and the beasts illustrate the negative power-mongering qualities authority figures possess while the image of the defenseless, sleeping girl signifies the vulnerability of those who are blind to their servitude to their leaders. In order to portray the dangers, the text utilizes the symbol of the lion to represent authority.
Amongst the beasts that visit sleeping Lyca, the main character, the poem notes that “the kingly lion” appears (Line 37). The deliberate use of “kingly” crafts an explicit connection to the world of politics and government while the use of “lion” evokes a feral dimension to power since lions are known as the “kings of the jungle” who preside over the animal kingdom. By coupling “kingly” and “lion”, the words reinforce the concept of authority having power over others. In doing so, the text paints the lion as a stoic leader who presides dominion over all other beings, much like a ruler presiding over their subjects.
However, since lions are also predators, it corrupts this image by creating an image of a powerful figure who hunts on the weak and vulnerable. The poem utilizes the symbol of a lion to illustrate the corruptive and destructive nature of authority to endorse the opposition towards such forces. While the lion embodies the head of authority specifically, the other beasts serve as symbols for all other authority figures who possess power. The text notes that “the beasts of prey / Come from caverns deep” (Lines 34-35). Firstly, the negative connotation of “beasts” conjures an image of savage creatures.
In choosing the word “beasts” instead of a term with a more positive connotation, the poem implies that the creatures are cruel and dangerous. This, consequently, characterizes authority figures as threatening and feral. This characterization dehumanizes these figures to the status of animals to exemplify the danger they possess. To further this bleak comparison, in Christianity the word “beast” is used to describe the Devil. By associating authority to the bringer of destruction and embodiment of evil, the poem ignites the idea that authority is inherently malicious and sabotages those it feasts upon.
Furthermore, the text notes that the “leopards, tygers play / Round [Lyca] as she lay” (Lines 41-42). These beasts begin to encircle her as they play. Considering that a circle symbolizes infinity, this crafts an image of predators infinitely surrounding their prey. In other words, it speaks to the way authority creates a system that regulates people; this system, in turn, safeguards those in power from switching roles with the powerless. This ultimately means that those in power will continue to stay in power if no opposition exists.
The poem reveals this fact in order to imply that as long as there are figures to facilitate the relationship between predator and prey, it will continue to thrive. The text associates other forms of authority to savage animals and to the Devil to remind readers of the predatory nature of those in power. While the beasts represent authority, Lyca symbolizes the general public who do not realize they are being taken advantage of. The text deliberately describes Lyca with vocabulary that reveals her vulnerability.
The poem describes her as “the maid asleep” (Line 36). By specifically referring to her as a maid, the poem establishes the powerless status of Lyca. By definition, a maid is a female servant who caters to the needs of others. In referring to Lyca as a maid, the poem places the character in a position of servitude. Therefore, the general public is subservient to their leaders because they lack the power and agency to act otherwise. In this case, they are vulnerable to the requests and commands of their oppressors because they are not in positions to make decisions.
The fact that Lyca is referred to be “asleep” furthers the rhetoric of vulnerability and servitude by revealing her ignorance of the imminent danger. Since she is not conscious, she is unable to make decisions and therefore takes on a passive role. Hence, by taking an inactive role, the general public poses no opposition to the powers that be and perpetuates the manipulation. This is due to the fact that when one sleeps, one becomes unaware of one’s surroundings. The lack of awareness increases vulnerability to the abuse of power and control. The general public becomes ignorant to the world around them and cannot see how exploitable they are.
This vulnerability manifests itself when the text notes that Lyca becomes “naked” once in the presence of the beasts as she sleeps (Line 51). When one is naked, one becomes more exposed to the surrounding environment. Due to this lack of protection, Lyca is highly vulnerable to the dangerous situation she finds herself in. This fact translates to the idea that those who are ignorant of the abuse of authority are also more susceptible to its dangers because they lack the means to defend themselves. The unprotected nature implies that those who do not realize the dangers of authority grow even more open to their abuse and power.
This connects to the previous idea about taking a passive role because they are not even able to defend themselves from these dangers so, like a maid, they are moved around by their superiors. Lyca’s naked and vulnerable depiction pressures the reader to realize that by continuing to be blind to the wrongs of authority, they allow the abuse to continue. The symbol of the lion establishes the text’s connection to authority to introduce its predatory nature. This predatory nature further manifests itself in the form of the beasts who reveal the savage and harsh side of authority of preying on the vulnerable as a way to preserve their own power.
Lyca represents these vulnerable subjects who not only are servants to those in power but are unaware of their doomed situation. This inability to take an active role in their situation is what bars them from escaping the shackles of their controlling oppressors. William Blake’s “Little Girl Lost” argues that authority corrupts and controls those who lack the power to resist because they are unaware of these dangers and the bondage they live in. This text challenges readers to recognize and question authority within their own life in order to prevent them from placing themselves in situations where they “fall asleep” to danger.