The poem The Little Black Boy revolves around the themes of racism and discrimination on the basis of colour. Blake was strongly opposed to the belief in racial inferiority and superiority. In this poem, the black boy (probably a Negro) who is quite young says that he is black but his heart is not. It is rather as white (i.e. beautiful) as the skin colour of an English child.
The black boy is thus telling us how dark-skinned people are treated in society. Because of their dark skins, they are considered 2nd class citizens. The black boy thus tries to explain why skin colour does not matter.
The poem has been divided into seven stanzas having four lines each. The rhyme scheme of the poem is ABAB.
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The Little Black Boy Analysis
In stanza 1, the black boy says that his mother gave him birth in the southern wild (i.e. an African Forest) and hence he is black. However, he has no remorse over it because his soul is white i.e. beautiful. As he mentions the word “white”, he is reminded of English Child who is as white as an angel i.e. in his fair skin colour, he looks like an angel.
On the other hand, when he compares himself to that English Child, he feels that he is black and rather looks like the shadow of light. So in the first stanza, the black boy is feeling sorry for himself and his skin colour. It happens only when he compares himself to the English Child.
The black boy feels sorry for himself, but soon he stops pitying himself because one day his mother, while sitting under the tree in a hot summer morning, takes him on her lap, kisses him and says something, pointing towards the east (because Sun rises in the east). The sentences continues to the next stanza.
In this stanza, the poet uses the image of shadow to show its importance as it prevents one from the heat of the sun. It is used by the poet here in a positive sense because, in the first stanza, the black boy regrets over his skin which according to him is like a shadow. Thus the use of shadow in the poem is quite significant.
The black boy’s mother asks him to look on the rising sun. It is the place where God lives and gives his light as well as heat to the flowers, trees, animals and even humans. All the living creatures enjoy the comfort of this blessing in the morning as well as in the noon i.e. the whole day.
In this stanza, something unusual happens. Note that during those times, it was believed that Black people are not humans. They are rather savages who eat other people. They do not believe in God. But here, Blake, breaking this old and obsolete belief tries to show that the Blacks are no different from the Whites.
In the fourth stanza, the mother tells his son that God has put the humans on earth (which is limited in size) for a little period of time and in this little time, the humans should learn to bear the beams (rays) of love. The line means that humans should learn to take everything given by God as a blessing (including their black skin).
According to her, their black bodies and the sun-burnt face can be a cloud as well as a shady tree. Here it is a reference to the term “shadow” of stanza 1 and stanza 2. The mother of a black boy is trying to tell him that their dark skins can be considered a negative thing (depicted by the cloud, as it makes bright day dark) but on the other hand, it can be positive (depicted by tree shadow, as it gives relief in a hot day) as well.
Another important thing to note here is that the words “black bodies” and “sun-burnt faces” here symbolise the suffering of the Negros. But this suffering, according to the lady is something positive for them because they are more capable of bearing the beams of the sun or in other words, they are nearer to God because of their sufferings.
She further says that when their souls will learn to bear the heat of the sun, the clouds (i.e. the discrimination against them on the basis of their colour) will go away. Here she probably means the time when they will die.
When the clouds will disappear, God will ask them to come out of their grove e.g. the black skins and enjoy the divine home like the lamb i.e. Christ. Note that she is a believer in spite of being a Black.
So, the mother is asking his son to live the life as per the will of God and after the death, He will welcome them to His land where Jesus Christ lives. Their suffering will go away and they will enjoy for eternity.
Saying all this, the mother again kisses the Black Boy who then goes to the little English boy and tells him that when he will liberate from the black skin and the white boy from his white skin, both will live in the house of God and enjoy like the lambs i.e. both will be innocent and meek.
Note that the black boy calls White boy’s skin like a cloud (referring to its mortality and temporariness).
The black tells the white boy when both of them will be in heaven, the former will cover the latter from heat until the latter could bear it. They will then play with their father (I guess God or Christ). Then the black boy will stand and play with the white boy’s silver hair. He will be like the white boy (when the skins will vanish away) and only then the latter will love him as well.
The final stanza reveals the attitude of the Whites towards the Blacks. The black boy has understood that he will never be loved by the White boy because of his skin colour and hence he thinks that the latter will only love him when his skin will not be with him.