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Symbol Analysis

The song contains no scenes of violence, but you get the sense that a battle is taking place – or has already taken place – somewhere else. The watchtower provides an illusion of permanent security, but history has shown again and again that cultures that overextend themselves risk disaster. The end of the song may be a depiction of the moment the war "comes home" to the citizens of the walled city. This city could represent America during the the Vietnam War.

  • Title, Verses 4 and 9: The reference to watchtowers and to people "along the line" of watchtowers belongs provides both a symbol and an allegory of warfare. The symbol is, obviously, the watchtower. It is a position of power and security, but it's also the sign of a city on the defensive. And the city being protected by the watchtowers is a natural allegory for Americans in the second half of the twentieth century: rich and powerful, but with lots of enemies and a definite need to protect itself from strange foreign threats. America is not actually a city, and certainly not one with "barefoot servants" – that's why it's an allegory. You could easily go one step further and say that it represents America during the Vietnam War, although Dylan might get mad at you because he didn't like when people insisted on a particular interpretation. But the watchtower is a symbol of Vietnam because the French built them all over the country after they colonized it.

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