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The Ballad of Reading Gaol

AP English IV
by

Madeline Reich

on 13 May 2013

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Transcript of The Ballad of Reading Gaol

Structure In Section 5 of The Ballad of Reading Gaol, Wilde alternates the subject of each stanza between the hangman and Christian allusion.

This literal interweaving of the final fate of the man and religious allusion emphasizes Wilde's belief in the fate of all men.

Using this technique in the concluding section of the poem, Wilde leaves the reader with a reminder of his ever-consciousness of his Christian beliefs from throughout the ballad. Literary Devices Repetition Summary In Section V, Wilde comments on how the prison system needs to be reformed, but also applies the "what is good... wastes and withers" to love (Wilde 563) and other topics. He also says that no one cares about those who commit crimes, which is why nothing changes. Society leaves the men in prison to repent for their sins. Wilde ends the poem with the murderer in his grave, with no need (according to the narrator) for anyone to cry for him. Context and Meaning The final portion sums up the entire poem with Oscar Wilde's strong distaste for the prison system.
He witnesses the death of the man who kills his wife, and desires to understand the strong serenity and peace this man finds when he 'wistfully' looks upon the day.
Oscar Wilde sees the peace of death but observes the gruesome details of execution, the burning lime used to deteriorate the bodies, the infertile earth where the prisoners are left to decompose.
Most of the prisoners have died within themselves, their humanity all but eradicated. Yet the man who murdered his wife looks upon the day with strength and accepts his fate at the gallows.
The final stanza "And all men...The brave man with a sword!" (Wilde 565) summarize his message. That through love, men kill themselves. Love for themselves, love for their vices, and love for justice; mankind will always kill. Even kill the creation of God which Wilde holds in such beauty, life itself. Motifs The most significant idea of the poem is in the much repeated line, "All men kill the thing they love". This sentence encompasses both the ideas of love and death and is used to show the reader Wilde's view that man will eventually ruin good things in their lives. He implies that whenever one loses something they love, it is self inflicted, which can be seen through the murderer's character who killed his wife. Theme Section V "The Ballad of Reading Gaol" Allusion "And all men kill the thing they love,
By all let this be heard,
Some do it with a bitter look,
Some with a flattering word,
The coward does it with a kiss,
The brave man with a sword!" (Wilde 565) Wilde extends thing beyond women to anything that men love (money, life, ect.); love being all encompassing, the "thing" man loves becomes engulfed in the love and ultimately is destroyed by it (Kind of like when two people love each other, but spend so much time together, that love can be destroyed because they are together so much and don't have time fore themselves)
"And all men kill the thing they love..." shows the inevitability of men destroying what they love
Wilde is saying the men who are considered brave are the ones who will kill what they love up front and not sneakily
"By all let this be heard..." - a message to everyone, he wants everyone to understand this "And with tears of blood he cleansed the hand,
The hand that held the steel:
For only blood can wipe out blood,
And only tears can heal:
And the crimson stain that was of Cain
Became Christ's snow-white seal." Wilde makes a reference to the first murder - that of Cain and Abel.
Earlier in this section, Wilde shares a reference to the story through the passage: The story of brother killing brother serves a parallel to man's crime of murdering his counterpart, his own wife.
"For only blood can wipe out blood"
The man represents Jesus because he is dying for his wife's death.
This refers to the Christian belief that the Crucifixion of Christ wiped all previous sins clean and "snow-white"
Isaiah 1:18 says, "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool." "But this I know, that every Law
That men have made for Man,
Since first Man took his brother's life,
And the sad world began." Discussion Questions 1. Having read the entire poem, it's clear that Wilde has a very cynical view of love. Is there some validity to his view of love? What are other examples in literature and real life that back up Wilde's view? How do these examples back up Wilde's point of view? "The man had killed the thing he loved,
And so he had to die." The encompassing nature of "All men kill the thing they love" shows Wilde's belief that everyone will share the same fate. Since all men are sinners, all men will be punished by God. "For what chills and kills outright
Is that every stone one lifts by day Becomes one's heart by night." "That every prison that men build
Is built with bricks of shame,
And bound with bars lest Christ should see
How men their brothers maim." No matter the sin, all men share the same fate. "But God's eternal Laws are kind
And break the heart of stone." With this quote, Wilde suggests that all men sin.
"bricks of shame": Even those who build the prison and enforce the law have something to be shameful of.
"men their brothers maim": The word "brothers" creates the idea that these men are equal. Although some crimes are seen as more severe (like murdering one's wife) and come with punishment, human justice is insignificant in God's eyes.
Prisons punish men for their crimes and turn their hearts to stone.
God forgives and fixes the broken heart. 2. Do you think the prison system effectively punishes criminals? Explain your answer. Compare the prison system of Wilde's poem to our prison system today. Do the same issues still exist? 4. Consider the major theme of the poem: "All men kill the thing they love." What other examples of things men love can you think of that men "kill"? How do they kill them? Do these things fit into Wilde's poem as well? 3. How does Wilde use his experience in Reading Gaol to support his message? Why do you think he does not reference his own experience more specifically and instead focuses on the story of another prisoner? 5. The last three stanzas are usually separated into a sixth section. Why would Wilde choose to separate the last three stanzas from the rest of the fifth section? What does the separation add to the poem?
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