William Blake and the social construct of female metaphors

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Committee Member

George H. Gilpin - Committee Chair


Throughout his life's work, William Blake used male and female metaphors to project the problems of society and culture as well as to project his personal conflicts, attitudes, and observations of human dynamics; the resulting interaction depicted in his myth demonstrates an uncommon sensitivity to gender issues far in advance of Blake's own time. Despite Blake's progressive effort to rectify inadequate and dehumanizing "systems" that disproportionately limit the female's role in the divine humanity, Blake's difficulty in transcending his own gender identity to a consciousness free of sexism is evident throughout his myth, particularly in the ambivalent functions he assigns to female metaphors.Blake's resemblance to the system he destroys becomes increasingly clear as readers puzzle through the shifting, sometimes conflicting, messages suggested in the poetics. Nevertheless, Blake's seeming ambivalence serves his work well. The dialectic of genders in opposition inherent in Blake's myth pulls and pushes at reader consciousness and the strongest bonds of self-identity emanating from gender. The result is that our personal experience as readers, like Blake's personal experience as artist, becomes the political definition of the text which is irrevocably tied to gender.The provocative value of Blake's work increases options for contemporary readers to understand Blake's myth as personally relevant. Reader response criticism and feminist constructs of criticism ensure that Blake's focus on gender will be integral to meaningful deliberation about fused art and life for reader and artist. Thus Blake's myth, not always satisfyingly clear and at times contradictory, provides a catalyst to change the personal-political interpretations of critical readers and the aesthetic paradigms of the world at large. Blake's exploration of gender issues, founded on his desire for corrective action, transcends his ambivalence by pointing to it. Thus he makes a striking connection with readers in his poetic successes and his holistic failures.


Literature, English

Link to Full Text


Link to Full Text