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Music is not only an entertainment tool but also educative tool. Bob Dylan proved this right when he wrote the hit song Blowin in the Wind. Structured in three stanzas, this masterpiece addresses moral issues that surrounded humanity in 1960s when Dylan wrote it. This song taken literary appears like a set of questions with Dylan using repetition, symbolism, and rhetoric to put his message across.
Dylan addresses the issue of war, peace, racism, and freedom, issues that were apposite during 1960s. The audience of Blowing in the Wind is primarily the United States of America government and to some extent the whites living America around this time.
Though branded a ‘protest song’, this song is insightful and offers crucial moral lessons. Blowing in the Wind is an informative masterpiece written by Bob Dylan addressing issues of war, peace, and racism among others, directed to American government and American white citizens.
As aforementioned, Blowing in the Wind is a masterpiece written by Bob Dylan and heard for then first time in Apr 16, 1962. However, the album the Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan was released in 1963. “Its first public performance, at Gerde’s Folk City on April 16, 1962, was recorded and circulated among Dylan collectors…addressing issues of peace, war, and freedom” (Mick 43). During this time, some humanity issues were ripe in the society viz. the Vietnam War and racism in America.
There were many uprisings especially the youth who protested bitterly against the Vietnam War. Dylan happened to be one of these youths who were discontented with government undertakings. Dylan used the only tool he had; music, to protest or highlight some pertinent issues that he was not pleased with as a youth. The nature and intent of this song comes out clearly by looking at the philosophies of the author.
Bob Dylan was a civil rights activist. Born in May 24, 1941, Dylan never followed the masses but stood his grounds on matters of principle and morality. Blowing in the Wind is derived from “the traditional slave song No More Auction Block, while its lyrics questioned the social and political status quo” (Bauldie 8).
Dylan questioned many societal issues. For instance, in 1963, during rehearsals to appear in The Ed Sullivan Show, he walked out after being told that the “song he was planning to perform, Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues, was potentially libelous to the John Birch Society” (Sounes, 96).
This shows the kind of person he was; he believed in what he knew was right. In another incidence, he questioned the assassination of John F. Kennedy. “…an intoxicated Dylan brashly questioned the role of the committee, characterized the members as old and balding, and claimed to see something of himself (and of every man) in Kennedy’s alleged assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald” (Williams 29).
Dylan’s personal philosophies and beliefs made him write this song as a way of highlighting his feelings. Instead of addressing war alone, Dylan seized this opportunity to address racism as well thus broadening his audience.
This song targeted government adherents and the whites. It targeted government adherents because of the Vietnam War and the whites because of racism. The Vietnam war ran from 1955 to 1975; a time when Dylan released this single. Many issues arose during this time including calls from different quarters to end the war. However, these calls went unheard as the U.S government pushed on with its agenda to continue with the war.
Dylan then chose to address this issue in a mild way. This song sounds more of a dialogue where the author puts across rhetorical questions and offers answers at the same time. Dylan used rhetoric to make government adherents to think logically about what was happening in Vietnam at that time. This makes someone ask many questions concerning humanity. Government had the powers to stop this war; therefore, Dylan addressed its adherents to take action and stop war.
A small part of this song talks of racism and freedom. Racism was still ripe in society during this time, the whites being the perpetrators and the blacks being the victims. Dylan seized this opportunity to address this issue at the broader perspective of humanity. As aforementioned, Dylan believed in what was right and was never ready to compromise and follow the masses.
He asked the whites a question, “How many years can some people exist/ Before they’re allowed to be free” (Dylan Lines 12 &13). This was a direct question towards the whites, who had refused to accept that the blacks were human beings just like everybody else and racism was illogical.
Interestingly, this song attracted many people including churches; both catholic and protestant, and it became the anthem to ‘anti-war’ activists and human right groups. Therefore, even though the song primarily targeted government adherents and racist whites, it found great reception amongst activists of that time.
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Blowin in the Wind addresses peace, war, freedom, and racism. The song is divided into three stanzas. Dylan employs rich use of rhetoric, symbols, questions, and themes to convey his message. There seems to be so many questions; however, the answer to all these questions is the same; “…is blowing in the wind” (Dylan Line 7).
Each stanza contains several rhetorical questions culminating to the same answer. The answer ‘my friend is blowin’ in the wind’ means the answer is so obvious it is right in your face” (Mick 43). This means that Dylan was offering a way out the issues that he was addressing.
The first stanza goes like, “How many roads must a man walk down/ Before they call him a man/ How many seas must a white dove sail/ Before she sleeps in the sand/ How many times must the cannonballs fly/ Before they are forever banned” (Dylan Stanza I). In this stanza, two themes stand out, the theme of war/peace and racism. In the first line, Dylan wonders for how long racism will continue seeing some people as lesser beings.
In the second line, he brings in the issue of peace. The white dove here is a symbol of peace. At this time, peace between American and Vietnam seemed unachievable and this is true given the length of the war. “Sleeping in the sand,” means finding a place to tough down.
The issue of dove here resonates with the times of Noah of the history after the deluge. Noah sent a dove to see whether the waters had receded but the dove kept coming back to the ark because it could not find a place to rest. Likewise, Dylan wonders how long will this dove of peace keep on flying before ‘sleeping in the sand.’ ‘Cannonballs’ symbolize war bombs and Dylan was taking the government to task and wanted to let them know that the answers to all these questions were just in the ‘wind.’
The government had the power to stop these bombs from flying while the whites had the power to stop racism hence; the answer was available and within their reach.
Stanza 2 opens and ends the same as stanza one. “How many years must a mountain exist/ Before it is washed to the sea/ How many years can some people exist/ Before they’re allowed to be free/ An’ how many times can a man turn his head/ An’ pretend that he just doesn’t see” (Dylan Stanza II).
Dylan continues to question the government. The ‘mountain’ here means the superiority of the United States of America whilst being ‘washed’ means getting over personal and selfish ambitions and mind about other people’s affairs.
The American government just chose to pretend that it did not see the affliction of people in Vietnam. Many people suffered a lot including the American soldiers who went to the war. Dylan based his argument on these premises arguing that the answers to these problems were nearby; blowing in the wind.
Finally, the third stanza capped it all as Dylan augmented his themes and concerns. He says, “An’ how many times must a man look up/ Before he can see the sky/ An’ how many ears must one man have/ Before he can hear people cry/ An’ how many deads [sic] will it take till he knows/ That too many people have died” (Dylan Stanza III). This stanza tackles the two pertinent issues in this song, war, and racism.
In the first line, Dylan seeks to know the number of times that a man has to ignore the facts by pretending not to see them. The American government had ‘looked up’ for long and pretended not to see the ‘sky’; that is, the reality. The reality was; people in Vietnam were suffering; however, the government chose to ignore this fact and instead chose to send more soldiers to the war.
Likewise, the racist white had deliberately chosen to overlook the fact that the blacks were human beings just like everyone else. Instead, they had chosen to uphold racism.
This is why Dylan takes these groups to task by asking rhetorical questions only to offer an answer immediately after the questions. He wondered just how many dead people would the American government want to see in Vietnam before it recognized enough people had died. Nevertheless, the answer was simple; it was right there with the involved groups.
Dylan uses repetition richly and by this style; he accomplishes his objective. He repeatedly asks, “How many” and this shows that the issues he is addressing are not new, they have been perpetuated in the past and there seems to be no reprieve. For instance, by the time he wrote this song, the Vietnam War was eight years old.
Therefore, by use of repetition, Dylan exposed his theme; that enough was enough and the American government had best opportunity to end the war. Similarly, the issue of racism was as old as abolishment of slave trade. It was not something new and by use of this rhetoric, Dylan made it clear; the world has had had enough of this racism stuff.
Blowin in the Wind does not pass as another piece of art; no, it is a masterpiece touching on crucial issues about humanity. Written by Bob Dylan, in 1962, this song resonates well with Dylan’s philosophies. He believed in standing for the truth not compromising at any expense.
The song addressed apposite issues at that time including the Vietnam War and racism. By use of rich literal elements like theme, symbols, questions, repetition, and rhetoric, Dylan explores his text conclusively. The use of rhetorical questions with answers thereafter, makes the listener understand the message in the music.
For instance, the listener understands that the answers to these problems are so obvious; just like blowing the wind with one’s nostrils. Use of repetition makes the listener understand that the issues tackled here are not new. The audience of this message was government adherents and racist whites; however, it received good reception in churches and amongst different activists of that time.
Bauldie, John. “The Bootleg Series Volumes 1–3.” Rare & Unreleased, 1991. Web. https://www.musicstack.com/
Mick, Gold. “Life & Life Only: Dylan at 60.” Judas Magazine, 2002. Web. https://www.expectingrain.com/archives2002a.shtml
Sounes, Howard, “Down The Highway: The Life Of Bob Dylan.” Grove Press, 2001.
Williams, Richard. “Dylan: A Man Called Alias.” Bloomsbury, 1992.