The Cry of the Children

The Cry of the Children Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

Youth (Motif)

Drawing parallels between diverse experiences of youth, Browning offers the reader images of young lambs, birds, fawns, and flowers, building up a strong association between youthfulness and a carefree, pastoral, playful existence. By offering repeated examples of youth, in each case emphasizing the relationship between childhood and happiness, Browning lays the groundwork for an even more shocking contrast when she describes an example of youth that breaks this pattern. The description of unhappy, tired human children in industrial settings contrasts so sharply with that of happy younglings in nature that the reader will likely feel shocked, even if they are already familiar with the horrors of child labor.

Wheels (Symbol)

The wheels that the children use working in factories become a metonymic symbol of the degradation of industrial labor, in particular its repetitiveness and noisiness. Through the symbol of the wheels, Browning is able to vividly portray the children's struggles through a physical, literal lens—for instance, they express their feelings of being silenced and ignored through the idea that the noisy wheels might drown out their voices. The wheels' circularity and endless turning also suggests that child labor is a cycle, repeating and self-perpetuating just like the technology that the children use.