William Blake's The Chimney Sweeper tells the story of what happened to many young boys during the late eighteenth century. Boys as young as four and five were sold to clean chimneys because of their small stature. These boys were exploited and lived a lowly life that was socially acceptable during the eighteenth century. Children were used in many horrid ways so that production would advance and industries could maximize profit. Blake exposed the trouble with this socially accepted vice through poetic voice, symbolism, and irony.
Blake believed that problems concerning child labor are the result of our carelessness. Through a set of literary devices such as imagery and language, Blake protests against oppression resulting from child labor. Blake describes that the clergy participate in this oppression because they allow it. Ironically, Blake does not describe the church as a holy sanctuary but as a place where the clergy ".[make] up a heaven of our misery." We sense that religion and a belief that salvation will serve the children is nothing more than a lie to perhaps soothe the conscious of those involved in child labor. The image of a "black" child suggests that the chimney sweep is covered in filth and soot. The boy then helplessly cries "weep, weep" alluding to sweep, sweep, having felt innocence lost over such labor. .
In discussing the actual history, we note "Child Labor is a social problem associated with the rise of industrial production and capitalism. It appeared in earlier ages in agricultural societies, but during the Industrial Revolution of the 18th century in Great Britain it began to be opposed. " " The problem arose when factories and mines employed children, many younger than ten years old. They were forced to work long hours under dangerous conditions for little pay" and "Social reformers began to condemn child labor because of its detrimental effect on the health and welfare of children.