The subject, of work in all its forms, was inspired by Brown seeing navvies at work laying drains. Each character or group is of symbolic significance, from the navvies representing physical work to the gentleman and his daughter on horseback who are rich enough not to have to work. The young lady giving out religious tracts is doing 'God's work', while the itinerant farm workers fall asleep under the trees are destitute for the want of work.The two gentlemen on the right were described by the artist as the 'brainworkers' who seem to be idle, but they are the source of social reform and prosperity. The potboy with his beer tray carries a copy of 'The Times' under his arm. Literacy was seen as the key to social improvement and political power for the working class. The Masonic symbols of trowel and set-square in the foreground represent another means of advancement for tradesmen.