Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Nancy Moore Goslee


William Blake's works are full of the imagery of scapegoating, both violent and non-violent. Yet most of the critical attention to scapegoating in Blake focuses on the last of his major prophecies, Milton and Jerusalem. In contrast, this dissertation will examine scapegoating in earlier texts, works written between 1788 and 1806. Using the rhetorical theory of Kenneth Burke, this study will examine the relationship between Blake's concerns about scapegoating and his antinomian rejection of law and rational systems of order. This study will achieve three primary aims. First, it will show that Blake's obsession with scapegoating does not begin in the later works, but is already implicit in his earliest works. Second, this study will demonstrate that Blake's perspective on scapegoating is, like Burke's, connected to ideas about the dangers of symbolic orders, particularly when these systems become rigid. According to Burke, systems of order function as rhetoric, persuading us to commit ourselves to absolute attitudes and beliefs. These beliefs lead to guilt, because no system can be perfectly obeyed. Finally, this guilt leads to the selection of a scapegoat who redeems from guilt and unifies the community. For Burke, this pattern is embedded in the nature of language as we use it to create consubstantiation with others in our communities. Upon close examination, it appears that Blake has similar concerns. Finally, this study will trace the changes in Blake's attitude towards symbolic order and scapegoating throughout the 1790's. In the texts that do not involve Blake's selfcreated mythologies, he criticizes the scapegoating potentials in particular systems-Christianity and Empiricism. However, once Blake begins to create his own mythologies, his critique of symbolic order become, more generalized, applying to systems of order per se. In the Lambeth pmpheci� the figure of Urizen represents order in general, and this order is rejected completely. But in The Four Zoas, Blake produces a much more complex view of symbolic order and scapegoating, attempting to overcome scapegoating and "Corporeal War" by means of what Burke calls an ''ultimate dialectic," a hierarchy in which the quest for ultimate values occurs within a flexible and ever-shifting system.

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