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The Problem of Poverty in Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry” Essay


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People live in the society which develops according to the definite laws and principles. That is why, the aspects of an individual’s life can be discussed from the perspective of personal attitude to the problems or from the point of their analysis in the social context.

To see the situation from the perspective of its social significance, it is necessary to refer to Mills’ concept of sociological imagination and to the division of problems and issues into personal and social ones.

Song lyrics as the reflection of the social situations can often contain a certain social message which helps to illustrate the connections and divisions between the social aspects and personal lives.

Thus, the main social question which can be discussed with references to Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry” is the issue of poverty in Trench Town community in Kingston, Jamaica.

To start examining the social issues, it is significant to define the notion of sociology. Living in a society, people organize their activities and interactions in relation to definite principles.

Sociology studies these principles and the whole society as the complex mechanism with its structure, functions, and development. Moreover, such factors as social groups, social institutions, social relationships, and social behaviors are also analyzed in the field of sociology (Macionis).

However, a person can consider oneself as a part of a society when he or she has the developed sociological imagination. Thus, sociological imagination can be defined as the ability to discuss personal problems from the point of their social meaning or analyze public issues with references to the personal life.

Mills determines personal troubles and social issues as the variants to distinguish between personal and social problems because sociological imagination depends on the individual’s ability to see this difference and discuss problems socially, not only from the personal point of view (Mills).

Sociological imagination helps to understand the social life, accentuating the significance of both approaches to discussing the life situations.

Those people who concentrate only on their personal troubles cannot see the whole picture when those ones who pay much attention only to social issues cannot focus on their own problems.

Thus, sociological imagination allows avoiding ignorance of the social facts and issues which develop at the public level of life and can influence the personal life.

The concept of sociological imagination is based on the connection of personal troubles and social issues from the perspective of an individual’s vision of them.

In spite of the fact social and personal questions can be discussed as problems, it is necessary to focus on the difference between these notions.

This difference can be explained with references to the notions of personal efficacy and locus of control. An individual’s attitude to the personal and social challenges is discussed with accentuating his or her personal efficacy.

This term is used to describe the personal level of ability to control his or her life and achieve the definite goals.

Nevertheless, it is almost impossible to discuss the personal abilities without referring to the social environment which has its impact on the personal life and efficacy.

However, different people have various viewpoints in relation to the significance of this impact on their life and actions.

These viewpoints determine their locus of control, and people can believe that they can affect and control situations much or they can be sure that their actions cannot change anything, and the situations’ outcomes are influenced by the external forces.

Thus, the difference between social issues and personal troubles are in that social issues cannot be controlled with references to personal efficacy, and they have the external locus of control when personal troubles are discussed from the point of personal efficacy, and they have the internal locus of control (Macionis).

“No Woman, No Cry” is a song which was first performed by Bob Marley and The Wailers. Vincent Ford is considered as the author of the song which was written in 1973.

This reggae song was released in the album “Natty Dread” in 1974, but it became popular with the audience only in 1975 when the live version of the song was presented in the album “Live!” (Dawes).

“No Woman, No Cry” can be discussed as helpful for illustrating the definite social issues because its lyrics present the reflection of the particular features of the social situation in the community Trench Town in Kingston, Jamaica, from the perspective of the person who sings about them.

In spite of the fact there are no direct references to the definite social issues in the text, the author mentions the specific location and circumstances, creating the background for the song. It allows the interpretation of the song’s lyrics from the point of its social significance.

The main social issue which can be associated with the lyrics of “No Woman, No Cry” and also explained with references to the song is the problem of poverty. The issue of poverty can be personal and social in relation to the level of the problem.

Thus, individuals can suffer from their personal poverty when they live in the society with the high level of income, but their level of income is rather low, and they suffer from definite financial limits.

However, when the problem of poverty can be discussed as the topical and urgent for a large group of population located at certain territories it becomes the social issue which requires its resolving at the governmental level.

The lyrics of “No Woman, No Cry” reflect the situation of living in the ghetto Trench Town in Kingston, Jamaica, where the problem of poverty is familiar for all the residents. That is why, the problem of poverty presented in “No Woman, No Cry” should be analyzed as the social issue.

Trench Town is a housing project worked out by the Jamaican government to meet the residential problems of those people who experienced the consequences of hurricanes when their houses had been destroyed (Dawes).

Speaking to a woman and asking her not to cry because of her life situation, the author of the lyrics means not only all the poor women but also all the residents who suffer from poverty and do not hope for the better future.

In spite of the fact the lyrics are focused on presenting the life situations of some persons, these characters are not definite, and they can be used to present the aspects of the social issue of poverty more vividly.

The problem of poverty continues to be one of the most challenging social issues in Kingston, Jamaica. The ghetto Trench Town can be discussed as slums in Kingston where the population’s poverty is based on many other social and political issues.

Thus, the song was written in 1973, and its lyrics reflect the social situation of Trench Town in the 1970s. Developing as a public housing project, Trench Town attracted the poorest categories of the population in Kingston.

During that period, more than 43% of population in Kingston were below the line of poverty and lived in Trench Town (Riley). The rate changed according to alternations in the political fight in the country.

Thus, it was 34% in 1992 and 19% in 2002 (Riley). In spite of the fact the dynamics can be discussed as positive, the problem of poverty is still urgent for the country.

During the 1970s, the poverty in Kingston depended on the outcomes of the unstable political situation, unemployment, lack of access to health care, to education, and to communal facilities (Riley).

Bob Marley as the performer of “No Woman, No Cry” knew the particular features of the problem of poverty in Trench Town because he has been living there for a long period of time.

Bob Marley was born in 1945 in the family of the captain in the Royal Marines. His father was of the English and Syrian-Jewish origin, and his mother was the African-Jamaican.

The fact influenced Bob’s vision of his identity, but he perceived himself as the African-Jamaican and paid much attention to the social issues of the African-Jamaican people in Kingston.

Bob Marley starts his career of the reggae singer and musician in the 1960s and begins to work with The Wailers, following the Rastafarian movement.

The musicians were popular with the public in Jamaica because their songs reflected the controversial social issues in the country, but provided the positive vision of problematic life situations with accentuating the power of hope and beliefs.

“No Woman, No Cry” became Bob Marley’s breakthrough to the international audience. Breaking up with The Wailers, Marley continued his career and became widely famous with such songs as “Buffalo Soldier”, “One Love”, and “Three Little Birds”. Bob Marley died from melanoma in 1981 (Gottlieb-Walker).

The lyrics of “No Woman, No Cry”:

No, woman, no cry (Repeat 4 times);

‘Cause – ’cause – ’cause I remember when a we used to sit

In a government yard in Trenchtown,

Oba – obaserving the ‘ypocrites – yeah! –

Mingle with the good people we meet, yeah!

Good friends we have, oh, good friends we have lost

Along the way, yeah!

In this great future, you can’t forget your past;

So dry your tears, I seh. Yeah!

No, woman, no cry;

No, woman, no cry. Eh, yeah!

A little darlin’, don’t shed no tears:

No, woman, no cry. Eh!

Said – said – said I remember when we used to sit

In the government yard in Trenchtown, yeah!

And then Georgie would make the fire lights,

I seh, logwood burnin’ through the nights, yeah!

Then we would cook cornmeal porridge, say,

Of which I’ll share with you, yeah!

My feet is my only carriage

And so I’ve got to push on through.

Oh, while I’m gone,

Everything’s gonna be all right! (Repeat 8 times)

So no, woman, no cry;

No, woman, no cry.

I seh, O little – O little darlin’, don’t shed no tears;

No, woman, no cry, eh.

No, woman – no, woman – no, woman, no cry;

No, woman, no cry.

One more time I got to say:

O little – little darlin’, please don’t shed no tears;

No, woman, no cry (“No Woman, No Cry: Lyrics”).

The social issue of poverty which is discussed with references to Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry” can be analyzed in relation to the aspects of the theory of Social Conflict.

This theory is the most appropriate one for discussing the song because it helps to explain the causes for such social inequalities as the division of the population into wealthy and poor (Macionis).

Living in the dangerous conditions in Trench Town in Kingston, the residents of the ghetto suffered from the lack of resources, and this situation was the result of the political fight of authorities who lived in the better surroundings.

Thus, the problems of the political elite were solved, affecting the other population negatively. The situation of poverty in the ghetto Trench Town in Kingston can be discussed as a result of the social conflict.

Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry” is a successful lyrical representation of the significant social issue of poverty from the point of persons who suffer from these circumstances.

The song “No Woman, No Cry” was chosen to accentuate the possibilities of the sociological imagination when the problem of a person can be discussed in the larger social context.

Providing such details as the name of the ghetto in Kingston, the author helps the audience to see the background of the situation and consider it as the reflection of the great social issue.

Thus, examining the details associated with the song, it is possible to learn to see the problem from the larger perspective and discuss it socially.

Works Cited

Dawes, Kwame. Bob Marley: Lyrical Genius. USA: Sanctuary, 2002. Print.

Gottlieb-Walker, Kim. Bob Marley and the Golden Age of Reggae. USA: Titan Books Ltd., 2010. Print.

Macionis, John J. Society: The Basics. USA: Pearson, 2012. Print.

Mills, Wright C. The Sociological Imagination. USA: Oxford University Press, 2000. Print.

No Woman, No Cry: Lyrics. Web.

Riley, James C. Poverty and Life Expectancy: The Jamaica Paradox. USA: Cambridge University Press, 2005. Print.

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IvyPanda. "The Problem of Poverty in Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry”." May 20, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-problem-of-poverty-in-bob-marleys-no-woman-no-cry/.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "The Problem of Poverty in Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry”." May 20, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-problem-of-poverty-in-bob-marleys-no-woman-no-cry/.

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