Date of Award
Master of Arts
This study examines the relationship between the poetry of William Blake and the abolitionist movement gaining force in England from 1789-1793. The poems The Visions of the Daughters of Albion (1793) and "The Little Black Boy" (1789) express sympathy with this movement, depicting racial prejudice and oppression in unsparing ways. However, other aspects of the poems threaten to undercut this message, such as the equation of corruption with black imagery and purity with white imagery. This is a sign of Blake's limited scientific and theological understanding of race, which leads to an inadequate portrayal of enslaved Africans. Because his interests lie primarily in universal and Christian definitions of freedom, the poet fails fully to engage the problem of slavery.
This paper will describe these limitations in Blake's poetry and in the critical response by Blake scholars, which often fails specifically to mention issues of enslavement. Chapter One will outline these problems and describe the poet's connection to the abolitionist project. Chapter Two will explain the relationship between The Visions of the Daughters of Albion and the writings of John Gabriel Stedman, analyzing studies by Anne Rubenstein, Camilla Townsend, Eugenie R. Freed, and David V. Erdman. In Chapter Three, the utopian readings of Visions offered by Erdman and Steven Vine will be countered using the arguments of Anne Mellor and Nancy Goslee. Finally, Chapter Four will attempt to explain Blake's specific stance with regard to racial difference and integration, primarily citing David Bindman, Ngugi Wa Thiong' o, and the text of "The Little Black Boy." These readings will reveal the perspective of a gifted artist who was nevertheless limited by the biases of his own culture and time period.
Gentle, Edgar Cuthbert, "The Politics of Abstraction: Race, Gender, and Slavery in the Poetry of William Blake. " Master's Thesis, University of Tennessee, 2006.