How does Browning use the phrase "our father" as a tool to critique child labor?
The phrase "our father" serves as an example of the way in which people relate to religion via metaphor, linking familiar human stories to abstract spiritual concepts. Here, Browning suggests that children with atypical and unhealthy relationships to authorities in the world around them cannot use those relationships to metaphorically understand God and religion. Furthermore, the poem's children argue, a lifetime of being ignored by adult authorities has made them doubt that God will listen to or care for them. The speaker, therefore, chides peers who simply urge suffering children to embrace religion, asserting that religious devotion cannot develop without caring human relationships.
How does imagery portraying the natural world help the poem's argument develop?
Images of nature depict youth as a period synonymous with play, joy, and tranquility. These images portray peaceful baby animals and even young plants surrounded by nature, expressing themselves through chirps and bleats, in order to firmly establish those relationships between youth and happiness. In contrast, images of old age, including that of an old and leafless tree, display age as a time of solemnity, pain, distress—and the wisdom and skill to manage those trials. These natural images contrast sharply with that of children working in factories, young but distressed and miserable. Indeed, they make child labor appear unnatural and unprecedented.