Write about the theme and the message delivered in the poem John Brown by Bob Dylan.
‘John Brown’ is an anti-war lyric. It tells the story of an American mother who sends her son John Brown to war on some foreign land. The song follows the young soldier and his mother’s lives. The singer shows us the true fate of the American soldiers who are stationed in foreign countries for war. He also questions the very nature of war and shows us that there is no nobility in warfare, thereby strengthening the idea of pacifism.
So, the main theme of the poem has been the destruction and ill-effects of war on human life, and especially on the lives of the innocent soldiers. The poem also busts the myth of heroism and patriotism attached with warfare. Dylan Thomas strongly disapproves of any kinds of war and attempts to awaken the common people against the propaganda of war and bravery indoctrinated by warmongers.
War is so fatal that it forces a man to act inhumanely against its own race. This is what scared John Brown the most, that his enemy whom he intended to kill looked just like him. Both the soldiers, at the end, were the victims of the same war. They were in no way connected with the cause or consequences of the war, yet they were duty-bound and had to kill their own brothers.
Bob Dylan’s John Brown depicts how vainly war is glorified and what fatal consequences it has. John Brown’s mother associates war with heroism and glory. She is no bystander or victim here. She seems to be unaware of the fatal consequences of war. She admires her son’s look when he dresses up in a soldier’s uniform. The thing she is highly interested in is the medals that her son would bring. This is suggestive of the false glory associated with the war. In fact, the poem doesn’t state the reason for going to the war. The goal here is to criticize the soldier’s mother’s vanity, and to expose the captain and those who award the medals.
Through the poem John Brown, Bob Dylan ridicules the flawed idealization of war instead of glorifying or romanticizing it. It shows the harsh reality of wars. It criticizes how wars were glorified and its horrors were ignored to make it seem a worthwhile endeavor.
John Brown is an interesting anti-war lyric which describes the horrors of war and the ease with which young men find themselves trapped in one. The idea of being a hero in the battlefield is as tantalizing as it is fatal. This idea of heroism is often driven by a false sense of bravado and machismo which drives men to a situation where they find themselves “a-tryin kill somebody or die tryin“. It is too late when they discover that all the power and glory is nothing more than political puppetry where the strings are pulled by powerful, interested players. This aspect is further explored in the summary and analysis of John Brown in the section John Brown Summary and Analysis.
John Brown uses colloquial diction to interrogate the ideas of war, honour and masculinity and show what happens when people go to fight a ‘good old fashioned war‘.