March 9, 1996
What draws the reader’s attention to Blake’s “The Little Black Boy” is the way in which Blake uses the cloud. There are two different ways in which Blake uses the cloud imagery. On the surface the cloud symbolism represents the division by skin color and the poem suggests that the darker the cloud the further away one is from God. The darker skin color then is viewed as a hinderance to those who wear it. Yet, a second look at the cloud reveals that this darker skin is also the key to the little black boy’s salvation. For the dark skin will protect him from the sun’s light better than the English child’s light colored skin; and it is this “shade” that will become his tool to bringing the narrator home to God.
The first appearance of the cloud is dark and “shady,” and this image of the cloud represents the speaker and his mother. As a hinderance the cloud divides and separates the little black boy from what he truly thinks he is– white, for in the beginning of the poem the speaker states that his “soul is white.” Blake suggests that the narrator and his mother, because of their dark skin and “bereav’d of light,” are different and do not deserve the same treatment as those who are similar to the source of all life, the sun and God.
Then the speaker is told by his mother that “these black bodies and this sun-burnt face/ Is but a cloud, and like a shady grove” (lines 15- 16). It is within this passage where Blake claims that the dark colored skin shall hang from a person tainting his connection to God. Here, Blake uses this image of dark skin as a burden like that of atonement for sin. The black man, has his dark skin because he has sinned, and once he has “learn’d the heat to bear” it all, will he be free of his outer skin and “the cloud will vanish.” Trapped within his dark cloud, the narrator sees his skin as a test that will prove to God that he is worthy of standing equal, if not better than his white counterpart, so that he too can “stand and stoke his [God’s] silver hair,/ And be like him, and he will then love me” (lines 27-28). In these lines Blake shows that love and equality, in God’s eyes, knows no colors of skin. Yet, in order to achieve this harmony and equality one has to die.
However, behind any dark cloud there is a silver lining. Blake also uses the cloud metaphor, as a tool of salvation for the little black boy. The fact that his skin is darker than the others suggests that he is better suited to take the light, that God gives him, better than the others. While the little black boy knows nothing of racial difference and truly believes that there is no social or class difference between him or his English peer, his ability to take God’s love better than the others will in turn free him from prejudice when his time has come.
The speaker’s point of view from a child shows how he believes that although his skin is black, he, like his soul, will one day become white. He will become white when he has carried the white clouds to the point when they recognize the heat and are able to bear it for themselves. Then when his soul has become white he be able to enter the gates of heaven to reconnect with God. It is through Blake’s contrast of the dark cloud as a tool of salvation and a burden where he comes to the realization that God passes no judgment upon the color of one’s cloud, but in the love that one gives. For when all is said and done, it is only in the end when love transcends the boundaries of race and prejudice.