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The Prisoner of Chillon: A Fable

The Prisoner of Chillon: A Fable


by George Gordon, Lord Byron

Chains and Captivity

Symbol Analysis

You can't tell us you didn't see this one coming – after all, the poem is about a "prisoner." But what do all these chains and images of captivity represent, broadly speaking? Byron was writing during a time when lots of countries were fighting for freedom from oppressive regimes. Many historians refer to the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century as the "Age of Revolutions." But some poets and other thinkers of the period thought that political tyranny was just one form of captivity that people should fight against – William Blake famously referred to the "mind-forged manacles," or mental handcuffs, that society makes for us.

  • Lines 37-40: Byron uses a metaphor to describe the chains – they're like an animal whose "teeth" leave festering, or "cankering" marks on his arms and legs.
  • Line 210: The speaker breaks his chain just as his brother dies – this prepares us for the metaphor that follows, which compares his brother to a link in the chain tying the speaker to his family. So the speaker breaks his literal chain just as the metaphorical chain tying him to his family (his brother) is broken.
  • Lines 215-218: Here's another metaphor involving chains, only this time, Byron uses the image of the chain to describe something else: his youngest brother is the last "link" in the figurative chain tying him to the earth.
  • Line 389: The speaker personifies the chains when he says that he became "friends" with them.

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