The Ballad of Reading Gaol | Study Guide

Oscar Wilde

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The Ballad of Reading Gaol | Symbols


Tent of Blue

The tent of blue is a symbolic representation of freedom. It is used to describe an action that the speaker observes from the man Charles Wooldridge who awaits execution yet wistfully peers toward the sky. The prisoner's gaze toward the sky symbolizes both loss of freedom and the peace he has made regarding his fate. The speaker shares that he "never saw a man who looked / With such a wistful eye" as he and the other prisoners show surprise at the man's content demeanor. The tent of blue with the emphasis on the color blue is the opposite of the darkness of the prison. The tent of blue is referenced by the prisoners as the sky which represents freedom.

Hanging Tree

The hanging tree symbolizes death for the prisoners as it is the method used to perform executions. It represents the fear that the prisoners experience and the power of the prison system. In Section 2 Stanza 7, the speaker describes the inevitable job of the tree that is used during the execution. This image symbolizes fear and terror for the prisoners and reinforces the idea of the loss of power and control of their lives in prison. The hanging tree is a constant reminder of the fate that all of the prisoners may face.

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