The Question of Politics in Literature

Victorian era, Rudyard Kipling’s “Man Who Would Be King” from the later Victorian era and George Orwell’s 1984 written in the period known simply as the 20th century.
Beginning with William Blake’s short poem “London”, written in 1794 and included in his collection entitled Songs of Experience, traces of political unrest can be found as the scenes and sounds of a walk down the London streets are reported. The first hints that something is not right within the city can be found in the first lines of the poem, “A mark in every face I meet, / Marks of weakness, marks of woe” (3-4). These comments wouldn’t necessarily suggest a poor political situation, except that the signs of decay and desperation are seen in every face encountered as the speaker walks down what is presumed to be an average London street. This is reinforced in the second stanza as the speaker says, “In every cry of every man, / In every infant’s cry of fear, / In every voice, in every ban, / The mind-forged manacles I hear” (4-8). In this, it is apparent that someone is controlling these people, although it remains unclear if the ‘mind-forged manacles’ are of their own creation or someone else’s. However, because of the inclusion of infants, who cannot possibly be imposing harsh times on themselves as well as the mention of bans, which are posted laws, it is indicated that the hardships being experienced are imposed from a higher source, such as the government. This is again reinforced in the third stanza when the speaker indicates that the decay of the city has reached even as far as the churches: “How the chimney-sweepers cry / Every blackening church appalls” (9-10) and the city’s defenses as “the hapless soldier[‘s]” sigh is made visible as it “runs in blood down palace-walls” (12). Throughout the poem, then, although no specific mention is made of issues affecting the people, the effects are nevertheless made clear. Something is not working in London and is having a negative effect on the inhabitants.