I Shall Be Released (analysis)

Verse 1

They say ev’rything can be replaced
Yet ev’ry distance is not near
So I remember ev’ry face
Of ev’ry man who put me here

An image of isolation is created just by making ‘replacement’ a physical act of putting something or someone  somewhere else
The narrator is the passive object,  forced into isolation, and this denotes the  little control he has on the whole situation. The release shall be done onto him – his wishes don’t matter


I see my light come shining
From the west unto the east
Any day now, any day now
I shall be released

This is  only image of light in the song, which  contrasts with the darkness described everywhere else.
But this light doesn’t come from the east, as usual. Therefore it may represent what we feel when time is running out, at the sunset of our life, when we   see all our life, our light shining from the west to the east . It may also  represent the shadows on a floor or a wall. The bright light coming  through a life of dark fog, gives an idea of “release”, in opposition   to the previous  caging
There is the belief (or a desperate prayer) that someone else will come along and release him -from the outside. If the release is from prison,  it will arrive from  the prison authorities . If it is moral,  it is perhaps God  who will do it. If the narrator  in the song is old and dying, then it is death. But always it is someone or something else.

Verse 2

They say ev’ry man needs protection
They say ev’ry man must fall
Yet I swear I see my reflection
Some place so high above this wall

This protection may come from a  group, a community or a gang or, better, from that place (freedom, Heaven) mentioned in the fourth line, which is “high above this wall
And the fall means that everybody makes mistakes, starting from  the Biblical Fall. Another reason why people need to be  protected.

Verse 3

Standing next to me in this lonely crowd
Is a man who swears he’s not to blame
All day long I hear him shout so loud
Crying out that he was framed

The “lonely crowd” is a powerful oxymoronic image, which highlights the feelings of personal isolation
We  don’t know if that man is  innocent:  Dylan never tells us, but he may be a victim of circumstances, who can’t  see a  reason for his isolation and punishment.

The chorus links all the verses – our  life is trapped but we shall ultimately be released from the stresses and strains of this  entrapment.  We  won’t do it by ourselves, but something will happen from without: fate, God  or something  else will come and help us out of this cage.
But the imprisoned man in the song  seem to have  found his personal way out, just by waiting.

Like  other   great pieces , this has become  an  anthem for an organization, for which it was  lost its personal tone, becoming a song with one meaning alone. This happens especially with  the simplest songs,   because our hearts and our minds are often attracted by  non-specific universal sentiments and  catchy choruses .




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