In “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison and “From Songs of Experience: The Chimney-Sweeper” by William Blake, the main characters are highly disadvantaged children. Morrison’s characters are experiencing the effects of the great depression, while Blake’s speaker is a victim of child labour during the industrial revolution in London. Blake’s speaker describes the child workers as experiencing “misery” (141). According to the Oxford English Dictionary, misery can be interpreted as “distress caused by privation or poverty” (n. 1), even during Blake’s time period.
This term has a direct link with the living conditions the child workers experienced. While during America’s great depression, industrial production “declined 9. 8 percent between October 1929 and December 1930 another 23. 9 percent between December 1929 and December 1930” (3) according to Christina D. Romer. The lack of production would drastically affect the economy with many people losing jobs and living in poverty. Although each writer explains times of great poverty, it is the feeling of being powerless, which ultimately destroys the main characters lives.
Children are often the most vulnerable citizens in society, and have little to no choice of how they live. Chimney-sweepers were subject to life threatening work that people with prestige would not subject themselves to. If the child were in power to decide, each and every one would rather play and have fun. Similarly, Morrison’s characters experienced discrimination, humiliation, mental and physical abuse by people in positions of authority. The kids would go through with such treacherous acts not because they want to but because they knew that had no other option.
Each author does a great job encapsulating how power can be abused and what effect it can have on a child. After all, this is such a crucial stage in a person’s life and what they experience shapes them into the person they will become. In “The Bluest Eye”, the children learn to use anger as a coping method for experiencing life in a harsh environment. They are living through the depression, in a society where they are discriminated simply because of skin colour or gender. However, the anger they feel is not because of their rough surroundings.
The anger is a result of feeling powerless. For instance, Pecola has a breakdown after buying her candy, She thinks, “They are/ugly. They are weeds. ” Preoccupied with that revelation, she trips on/the sidewalk crack. Anger stirs and wakes in her; it opens its mouth,/ and like a hot-mouthed puppy, laps up the dredges of her shame. (Morrison 37) In other words, Pecola feels unworthy and powerless after the shop owner fails to acknowledge her properly. Pecola is frustrated from the experience, as the narrator states, “Anger stirs and wakes in her” (37).
While her feelings could be a result of the disadvantages she is faced with, the word choice, use of simile, and imagery would suggest her anger stems from lack of power. For example, Pecola has changed her mind deciding dandelions are in fact ugly. Pecola feels like a dandelion in a bed of marigolds. Although, this could mean she realizes she is ugly because she is lacking the clothes and other material things that an advantaged person would have. This change is actually symbolic of defeat, as Pecola has a realization of the power struggle in society.
Before the shop experience she felt as though she was just as valuable as a marigold. Pecola sees that while not everyone may look exactly the same, ultimately everyone is human. After the treatment she received from the store owner, Pecola confirms that people are not equal. While dandelions share many similarities with other flowers, they are deemed to have much lesser value. She begins to feel subhuman, like a weed that will never become a beautiful flower. Pecola continues to struggle with the idea of beauty until it eventually consumes her mind completely.
It is interesting how the actions of people with power shape the mind of an innocent child affecting them later in life. Morrison uses imagery to visualize Pecola’s confirmation of inequality, as the anger “wakes in her” (31). She treats anger as though it was sleeping inside of her. As if the emotional response was always there, and was woken upon her “revelation” of inequality. Furthermore, Morrison describes Pecola’s anger as, “a hot mouthed puppy” (37). A dog living in poverty may lack some of the training and obedience that a dog living in luxury might have.
However, the message Morrison is trying to convey is Pecola’s sense of defeat. Pecola’s anger will subside, much like the puppy barking. But this is because she feels like she lacks the power to make a difference, so instead of fighting it, Pecola accepts it. Her burst of anger starts when she trips on the crack in the sidewalk. They are living through the depression, so it’s understandable that the city cannot afford to fix such walkways. Although, she gets mad at the cement because that’s the only thing she feels is lesser than her.
Pecola is so low on the power scale that only inanimate objects can be the victims of her rage. Additionally, Cholly experiences similar struggles for power in his youth. For example, When Cholly is discovered with Darlene by the hunters, her eyes staring out of the lamplight into the surrounding darkness and looking almost unconcerned, as though they had no part in the drama taking place around them. With a violence born of total helplessness, he pulled her dress up, lowered his trousers and underwear. (Morrison 116)
In summation, Cholly and Darlene’s intimate moment is disturbed by the white hunters. Furthermore they are humiliated by the hunters and are forced to entertain them. Living in poverty could certainly force someone to sell their body or do things they would not normally do to provide for themselves. However, Cholly and Darlene do not want to put on a show for the hunters. They just want to share an intimate moment together, but it is ruined when they are forced to become a live pornography show. Darlene lays submissively, looking “almost unconcerned”, but she very well knows what is happening.
Without making a fuss, she knows that she does not possess the power to say no to the hunters and nor does Cholly. Cholly becomes enraged at Darlene, not because it was her fault, but because he knows he is just an African American kid who lacks power to do anything he wants. Morrison’s imagery suggests that Cholly violently moving the clothes out of the way so that he can please the hunters. He takes his anger out on Darlene because at that moment she is the only thing lesser than him on societie’s power scale. The hunters possessing guns would seem like great motivation to do as asked.
However, they were looking for a lost dog, with no signs of bad intent. It was the fact that Cholly was a young black male that lead them to take advantage of him and treat him like an object. The hunter’s hold so much power over Cholly they make him do whatever they want. This is a crucial experience in Cholly’s life, as we see later on he does not treat women with the respect they deserve. His first intimate experience with a woman was one where the two were subject to abuse. Later when he sexually abuses Pecola, while dreadful, makes sense because he has built a connection with intimacy and abuse.
Similarly, in “From Songs of Experience: The Chimney-Sweeper,” the young speaker’s struggles are the result of having little to no power in society. For example, the character describes how society views him, “And because I am happy & dance & sing, They think they have done me no injury, And are gone to praise God & his priest & King, Who make up a heaven of our misery. ” (Blake 114) In other words, the child speaker is forced to do something he does not want to do but lacks the power to change his position in life.
It appears the child is frustrated because he is living in poverty and must work to provide for itself or its family. However, it is not the situation he is brought up in that bothers him but rather the submission to higher power he has to deal with. For instance, the child says “They think they have done me no injury”, it clearly understands that it is being taken advantage of. Although, the speaker does not go on to mention how it plans to change its situation. That’s because it acknowledged that it lacks the power to do so and unwillingly accepts it.
When saying “They”, the speaker is referring to not only his parents, but the government and society as a whole. Everyone has failed this child. Furthermore, the child states how “They” go on to “praise God & his priest & his king”. Again, the child is not blaming poverty but rather the people who have power over it. Not only does society accept the neglect of this child, but they actually praise the people who the child feels put it in such a position. The praise of abuse is truly a terrible connection for a child to make.
While the labour is physically abusive the speaker is also being conditioned mentally to think the same way. Thus, continuing the cycle of mistreatment of the vulnerable youth once they become older and hold a position with more respect. The child is being failed by the people in power, and it cannot understand why. For example, the child says that “God & his priest & King” just “make up a heaven of our misery”. Again, the child feels powerless and cannot comprehend why they people who can help it are pretending like no wrongdoing has happened. Heaven is supposed to be a blissful, wonderful place, where everyone is satisfied.
The speaker relates this to what the higher powers are proposing is going on. Although the child knows things are not in fact equal and it is not all that satisfied. Morrison and Blake both signify negative feelings in a child as a result of having little to no power. Although, Morrison’s characters often choose anger as a reaction to feeling powerless. Blake’s character submits to the higher powers and attempts to appear happy to please them. In conclusion, when comparing “The Bluest Eye” and “From Songs of Experience: The Chimney-Sweeper”, the setting and scenario is much different.
However, the two works share many similarities, conveying a comparable message. Both authors look into the eyes of children and explain how they are the most vulnerable people of all. Making is easy to strip away any bit of power they may feel they have. This treatment generates many questions and feelings of anger. The mental ability of a child is often underestimated. Proper use of power can yield great things. Although, when mishandled, has the ability to not only ruin lives, but continue the cycle of abuse.