Lord Byron?s poetic work ?The Prisoner of Chillon? tells the struggle between a person?s ending their suffering and accepting it rather than holding on to the hope of freedom. The author uses symbols to represent the immediate end of suffering, acceptance of defeat, and succumbing to torture in competition with hope, strength, and faith in eventual freedom.
The symbolism of the chains represents the prisoners? bondage. When the eldest of the prisoner?s younger brothers died, the chains were removed and his body was given partial freedom. However, he was buried in the cell in a section where the sun would not shine. In this way ?even in deaht his freeborn breast / In such a dungeon could not rest.? The chains were put over his grave as an ironic monument to his death. In this way, his brother may not be bound by physical chains, but his final resting place would always be in a prison. After the youngest brother?s death, the narrator was finally unchained and could roam about the cell as he pleased. Ironically, he was allowed this little bit of freedom after the his only reasons for living had passed. This ?compassionate? act of his captors was not really a favor. He had lost everything that was important to him, and the outside world did not concern him since there was no one out there who cared. However, he was still curious, and looked out of the window.
This window was his only portal to the outside world and represented his only portal through which to experience freedom. As he look out of the window, he lost his ability to accept his plight. When his brother had died, he gave up on everything. As far as he was concerned, ?there were no stars, no earth, no time, / No check, no change, no good, no crime.? But when his curiousity got the better of him, he noticed the beauty of nature and wished for freedom as shown by the ?heavy load? that was replaced when he decended back into the cell. When he had looked out, he saw mountains and a river that never changed, but he also saw an island with three trees. The trees and island represent the brothers alone and secluded in their cell. This caused great pain for him for it brought back his hope for freedom that he had had before his brothers? deaths, but the knowledge that he had been in prison for a long time and had no idea when he would get out, if he would ever get out. He accepts all of this and just decides to accept the situation and ?learned to love despair.?
In the midst of this poor man?s despair, a bird had come to visit him, representing hope?s grasp on him. He had just finished explaining how nothing existed to him ?but silence, and a stirless breath / Which neither was of life or death.? Then all of a sudden a sound broke the silence and it was certainly a stirring breath of life. The bird?s song had stopped momentarily and then began again because it shows that even though the hope or struggle for freedom can be hindered shortly, it will begin again. The bird?s song caused the prisoner to regain his senses that he blocked out. It caused the walls to close in again, reminding the man not to accept to the cell, but to continue to hope for freedom. Both the bird and the island make the man realize that the cell is not where he belongs, and that he should not accept his location and become numb to beauty.
However, the lake which surrounds the prison, symbolic of death, holds the prisoner back from freeing himself to hope for better things to come. The waves add to the effect of the dungeon by causing what the prisoner said a ?double dungeon? and a ?living grave.? If he was ever to get out of his cell and beyond the prison walls, he would have to swim a body of water that was ?a thousand feet in depth.? He is cut off from the land and the rest of the world by Lake Leman. The cell was underneath the water causing not only an enclosure but a feeling of being buried, as you would be buried in the ground after death. Whenever a storm would cause the waves to rock the cell he ?could have smiled to see / The death that would have set me free.? This taunts the man into desiring death as oppossed to the suffering that comes with hope.
In the end, the man accepts his dungeon and comes to think of it as a second home. When the time comes for him to be released, he is unable to enjoy his freedom. He would have been unable to enjoy whether the bird had come or not. The bird was an attempt to get him to grasp back on to hope and freedom, but the dungeon had successfully taken away the man?s desire to be free. Therefore, when the prisoner was released, he was being punished by what should have been the end of his suffering, because he learned to accept his situation instead of holding on to faith and hope.