Comment on the relationship of John Brown, the soldier with his mother in the poem / song “John Brown” by Bob Dylan.
Though Bob Dylan’s poem “John Brown” is mainly concerned with the theme of fatality and futility of war, it gives us a hint of the relationship of John Brown, the title character of the song with his mother. But we need to have a closer look at the poem to get that.
The very second line of the song states —
His mama sure was proud of him
His mother was extremely proud that John was going to fight in war for his nation. She expresses this feeling repeatedly not only before her son, but also in the neighbourhood. But now the question is whether it was John Brown’s own decision to join the army or his mother pleaded him to go that way. The second option looks more probable going by some of the lines that come later in the poem.
“Oh son, you look so fine, I’m glad you’re a son of mine
You make me proud to know you hold a gun
Do what the captain says, lots of medals you will get
And we’ll put them on the wall when you come home”
In the second stanza of the poem, we see the mother advising her son to follow the captain’s order in order to get more medals which she can then put on the wall. So, it looks like it was her decision that he fights in the war, as she was rather obsessed with the idea of her son getting medals. We also see that it was a part of her wish-fulfillment and satisfaction that she ‘shouted’ in the neighbourhood making sure everybody understood how important her son was.
Don’t you remember, ma, when I went off to war
You thought it was the best thing I could do?
I was on the battleground, you were home acting proud
Thank God you wasn’t there standing in my shoes
Once again, the ninth stanza clearly shows that John Brown was rather reluctant to go off to war. The words “You thought it was the best thing I could do”, “you were home acting proud” and “you wasn’t there standing in my shoes” show his contempt for his mother for forcing him to join the army to satisfy her own idealistic notion.
Now comes the final line of the song —
And he dropped his medals down into her hand
It was his mother who wanted the medals, not he. So he dropped in her hand all the medals he won at the cost of deforming himself in war. This is indicative of how disgusted John Brown was with the whole idea of fighting in war for getting medals and for all the false pride.
Now, to come down to the actual discussion of the relationship between the son and the mother, John Brown was obedient to his mother and the mother wanted to use her son to make her wish fulfilled, without thinking much of the possible consequences. Though John didn’t like the idea of war personally, he went off to war just to make her mother happy.