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Bob Dylan’s John Brown—A Defamation of War and Destruction

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Delhi North chapter.

Bob Dylan was an American singer who contributed immensely to popular music and culture for five decades. One such song written by him is “John Brown,” his greatest work which was never recorded. The song is about the harsh reality of war. It is an anti-war lyric that stands against the glorification of war and heroism.

“John Brown” critiques the traditional view of war, which is often referred to as the “good old-fashioned war.”

As the poem begins, John Brown, a soldier, is seen getting ready to go on the battlefield. His mother felt proud to see him standing straight in his uniform. She told her son to follow the captain’s orders and to bring home lots of medals. As the train left, she started boasting of her son’s abilities as a soldier to everyone in their neighborhood. John’s mother represents the entire society here. All she thinks about is the glory of war. She wants him to bring the medals while she doesn’t care about his safety.

After a few months, she receives a letter stating that her son has returned from war. She is shocked to see him at the station. His face is all shot up, his hand blown off, and he has a metal brace around his waist. This depicts the gruesome reality of war which brings him the medals but at the cost of him being disfigured. The entire song continues with him explaining the dark side of war, where he loses his identity and peace of mind. He sheds light on the horrific sight of war. He claims that even though this war didn’t kill him, it left him shattered, both physically and mentally.

In a war, a man kills another man. All the soldiers fighting in the war, though fighting on behalf of their respective countries, are themselves victims of the same war. They are pawns in the hands of warmongers for their own selfish ideologies. The unique thing about Dylan’s song is its universal appeal as there is no specific war that forms the background of the song; it just points out the fatality of each and every war. While narrating his appalling experience on the battlefield, he claims that the string of the cannonball finally broke and it blew his eyes away. This symbolizes that at this point, his opinion about war completely changed and he realized that he had lost everything. With this, he becomes cognizant of the fact that war brings nothing but destruction and in no manner it is the “good old-fashioned war.” 

In the end, John drops his medals into his mother’s hand, showing that he has fulfilled her wish but at the cost of his own well-being. This act is a reply to all those who believe war brings glory. As he parts his way from the medals, he denounces the idea of war.

Bob Dylan’s song, ‘John brown’ has presented the site of a battlefield where soldiers succumb to horrible violence and bloodshed. The song depicts that war is fought between ideologies and innocent people are made prey of this. Th song is a defamation of war and destruction. Through this song, Bob Dylan emphasized on the fact that war brings no glory and should not be idealized. Therefore, those who idealize war should stop infusing the youth with false notions of war. This is the only way to save the world from the horrors of war.

Tanvi Bhanot

Delhi North

I am extremely passionate about writing articles and poetry.