Study Guide

A Season in Hell The Criminal

By Arthur Rimbaud

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The Criminal

So we know the speaker is not in Hell, but he likes to say he is. By the same token, he's not actually a criminal, but he sure enjoys describing himself in this way. In line 6 we learn, the speaker says that he "summoned executioners to bite their gun-butts as [he] died," which is weird because a) it's hard to write poetry when you're dead, and b) he's not actually being killed by any firing squad. So what's going on here? We get a clue later on in the poem when he says, "I admired the stubborn convict on whom the prison gates always close again" (41). It seems like crime and criminality are largely symbolic for him, a way of describing himself as an outcast. Let's face it, you can't get much further out of society than being physically removed from it and locked into a prison. So, the criminal in this poem is a strategy the speaker employs to emphasize his marginality. If you want to learn more about this sad loner, check out "Themes: Isolation."

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