Soot is black, and the chimney sweepers are black because of all that sooty soot they schlep around in. They are also black, however, in a different sense. Their innocence has been stolen, and they're facing a premature death because chimney sweeping is not exactly an office job if you know what we mean. Black, in this poem, isn't just a color. It is also a symbol of everything that is bad about chimney sweeping specifically, and child labor in general.
- Line 4: The speaker says he sweeps chimneys and sleeps in soot. Soot is here a metaphor for the poor quality of the child's life and for the way in which chimney-sweeping dominates his life.
- Lines 11-12: Tom sees a few of his friends and thousands of others in "coffins of black." "Locked" is here a metaphor for the ways in which children were forced to work a job that killed their childhood. They're stuck. There's no getting out.
- Line 21: The speaker and Tom get up "in the dark." While this refers to the time of day, "dark" is also a metaphor for their dark and miserable lives. Folks, we hate to say it, but there's no light at the end of the tunnel for these kiddos.