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Die Heuning Pot Literature Guide
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Themes

Well, it certainly seems like "London" is more interested in the confinement side of things now doesn't it? Yes indeed. First and foremost, this is a poem about literal forms of confinement: chartering, a way of controlling, narrowing, and confining things that should be open (like rivers and streets). Then we've got that chimney sweeper, who for all intents and purposes is a slave worker; ditto that soldier (he's gotta do whatever the government tells him). On top of all this, there's those pesky "mind-forg'd manacles," the poem's metaphor for all the ways in which people dream up (that's the mind part) to enslave people. This could be governments planning wars, or governments mismanaging geographical space (the Thames, the streets), or even random people looking at things all wrong.

Questions About Freedom and Confinement

  1. Does it seem like the speaker stops talking so much about confinement in the later part of the poem? If so, what effect does this have?
  2. Where's the freedom in this poem? Is anybody free at all? 
  3. Does this poem offer any chance at escape, or does everybody pretty much seem born a slave? Why do you think so? What would the speaker say?
  4. It seems like the speaker is taking a walk. How does this fact relate to the theme of freedom and confinement?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Free?! There is nothing free about London. Even children, the most "free" of all, are slaves—to the church (as chimney sweepers), to fear, or even to the corrupting curse of the harlots.

Not even the speaker is free in this poem. Just look at how the language of this poem is confined—the repetition of sounds and words mimics the poem's themes.

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