person standing behind bars and colored like a springtime sky with a bird located in the chest

The Prisoner of Chillon

by Lord George Gordon Byron

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What is the theme of Byron's "The Prisoner of Chillon"?

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One theme of Byron's “The Prisoner of Chillon” is the importance of liberty to any meaningful existence. Bonivard's imprisonment doesn't just confine his body but also his soul. Even when he's eventually released, he's convinced that the whole world will now be his prison.

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Bonivard, the subject of Byron's “The Prisoner of Chillon,” was a real-life person, a monk thrown in prison for expressing democratic sympathies. As a strong supporter of radical ideas, Byron naturally gravitates towards Bonivard, seeing in him a kindred spirit in the fight for liberty. The poem can be seen as an expression not just of Byron's political philosophy but as a paean of praise to a man he greatly admires.

Byron shares with Bonivard an overwhelming commitment to liberty. He therefore feels nothing but revulsion at the appalling conditions in which Bonivard is imprisoned and which he describes in considerable detail.

Byron also highlights the damaging effect that loss of liberty can have on our minds. Even when Bonivard is finally released from prison, he feels no joy, no palpable sense of relief. In fact, if anything, he's scared at the prospect of rejoining society. He has a greater attachment to the spiders and the mice with which he used to share his cell than with anyone on the outside.

He's become institutionalized to such an extent that he's convinced that the whole world will now become his prison. No wonder, then, that he regains his freedom with a sigh. The psychological impact of an unjust loss of liberty has simply been too great for Bonivard to enjoy his freedom.

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