Where Have All the Children Gone?

During our class on Thursday when we discussed the plight of English children in the Victorian age (particularly in “The Cry of the Children” and “The Chimney Sweeper”), the overarching concept came up of the younger generation having lost their innocence through the exploitation of their labor. Browning’s series of springlike imagery in “Crycontrasts the bitter weeping of the children, who apparently are not engaging in the practices of youth. Rather, as both poems establish, the children are forced to work in the mines and factories of the new industrial era. Blake establishes in “Sweeper” that the parents are hypocritically praising God as their children are slaving away to the system they mindlessly support.

I find the situation of Heathcliff, Cathy, Nelly, and Hindley in the flashbacks of Wuthering Heights to be somewhat reminiscent of the plight of these Victorian children. In Chapter 6, Nelly describes the master as being “entirely negligent how they behaved”, and as such they preferred to “run away to the moors… and remain there all day”(¶5). The children, specifically Cathy and Heathcliff, are acting their age and living a playful life, as Browning would no doubt promote. Their return to the house and to society causes their reprimanding and regular beating by Joseph and the curate (i.e. the church). Interestingly, Nelly frames this in a somewhat negative light, as they are described as growing “more reckless daily”. So, in effect, the wildness of the children is caused by their alienation by the rules that try and keep them disciplined and contained so that they may be better controlled. This seems to somewhat parallel the themes established in the poems of children’s exploitation by the Victorian society; though, it differs in Nelly’s negative portrayal. It is as if to imply that the Victorian practices of dealing with their children will cause them to be so inundated by toxic ideals they will abandon the proper English society they are meant to. In effect, an English education serves to destroy the English ideals in the younger generation.

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