Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.

Open Grave

In the third quatrain, as the speaker calls for his compatriots to fight back against their oppressors, he concludes with a rhetorical question: “What though before us lies the open grave?” (line 12). The speaker references the open grave here as a symbol of death’s inevitability. The argument he advances throughout the poem is grounded in the assumption that death is certain, both for himself and for his kinsmen. If this assumption is correct, then there are only two possible responses. Either the speaker and his kinsmen can accept death’s inevitability without resisting it, or else they can realize that they have nothing to lose and choose to resist anyway. However, the speaker argues that the only way for them to preserve their honor and dignity would be to fight. As he calls out to his kinsmen in the final lines of the sonnet, the speaker presents the image of an open grave as a reminder of death’s certainty. However, the open grave also symbolizes the speaker’s open question to his compatriots: What will you choose to do now?


The speaker refers to a wall in the couplet that closes the sonnet (lines 13–14):

     Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
     Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!

The wall the speaker references here clearly contrasts with the four walls of the metaphorical pig pen he invokes in the poem’s opening lines. There, he declares that he doesn’t want to die “like hogs, / Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot” (lines 1–2). Whereas the pen represents a prison-like stockade, the single wall at the end of the poem is open rather than enclosed. Even so, the single wall is a similarly “inglorious spot.” Indeed, the wall the speaker mentions is reminiscent of execution wall, where armed squadrons line up their victims and shoot them. In this sense, the wall symbolizes the fate of the speaker and his kinsmen, who are likely to die at the hands of their oppressors. That said, the speaker’s image of being “pressed to the wall” strongly recalls the idiomatic English phrase, “to have your back against the wall.” This phrase means that you’ve been put in a difficult situation and that, with no other options available, you’re forced into a position of strength and toughness. Thus, the wall also symbolizes resistance in the face of oppression.