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Bob Dylan: The Nobel Poet


Published on December 14th, 2017 at 12:48 am

By Jonathan Amiri

Bob Dylan’s career blew up in the heat of various crucial historical events in America. His tenured career ran parallel with the massive civil rights movement of the 1960s, many of his songs addressing it. The Vietnam War also raged on during Dylan’s early career, influencing many of his songs and recurring themes of peace. During this time period, America’s society was heavily divided into the traditional conservatives and the progressive counter-culture, highlighting many issues within American society like the lack of rights for people of color and homosexuals as well as the principles keeping America involved with the Vietnam War.

In Dylan’s critically acclaimed protest song, Blowin’ in the Wind, he illustrates the lack of moral clarity present in America regarding the civil rights movement by questioning “How many times must a man look up before he can see the sky?” “How many ears must one man have before he can hear people cry?” and “How many deaths will it take till he knows that too many people have died?” (Dylan). Dylan questions the state of morality in America, especially regarding the civil rights movement in order to incite the long overdue change. Dylan includes a plethora of rhetorical questions that seem to have simple answers to illustrate the simplicity of the solution to the predicament looming over American society. In his essay entitled Times-a-changin,’ Pat Scales identified Dylan’s text as “a song that challenged Americans to think about racial discrimination” (Scales, “Times-a-changin”). Scales, like many other Americans, observes that the deep lyrics of Blowin’ in the Wind were not only relevant in the context of the song’s creation but throughout history. The tune also retains traction today, he contends, as Americans and people across the world continue to deal with oppression because of race or other factors of their background. The song, Scales maintains, “is as relevant today as it was when he was effecting change in the 1960s” .Scales points to children’s books that utilize Dylan’s lyrics to illustrate the longevity and universal nature of his masterpiece, Blowin’ in the Wind. David Boucher, in his essay analyzing Dylan’s unique voice in the civil rights movement, claimes that many of Dylan’s songs, especially Blowin’ in the Wind, were written “without a specific point of reference, but which were nevertheless capable of summing up the human predicament” (Boucher, “Dylan from Magic to Poetry”). He continues and maintains that the text does not “pretend to give answers” but highlights the crucial nature of asking questions. Boucher explains that Dylan’s inspiration for the songs resulted from the philosophy “that those who didn’t speak out were betraying themselves by their silences.” Dylan’s timeless classic continues to be relevant not only in modern American society but around the world as he addresses issues that are the products of human nature.

In another of Dylan’s widely appreciated protest songs, The Times They Are A-Changin, he affirms the civil rights movement, maintaining that its goals are inevitable. He sings “For the loser now Will be later to win” and continues to say “Your old road is Rapidly agin’ Please get out of the new one If you can’t lend your hand” (Dylan). In his poem, Dylan articulates that the movement for civil rights is unavoidable and thus any effort to resist it is bound to be plowed through. He even directly addresses lawmakers in his protest anthem, imploring them to lead the movement or get out of the way. He illustrates that the expansion of civil rights cannot be stopped regardless of any pushback the efforts may face. David Boucher claims that the tune “exudes confidence” and was the most successful effort in articulating the social change in the 1950s. He continues with high praise, maintaining that the song had the ability to create a sense of community among a variety of individuals. Boucher contends fervently that “It is uncompromising in that they are told to participate on the terms of the new generation, or get out of the way.” The Times They Are A-Changin’, according to Boucher, represents a massive turning point in American society and it illustrates a “renewal that transcends the injustices and corruption of the present” through Dylan’s unwillingness to compromise and his overbearing confidence in the future. Author Dennis Merritt Jones, in his essay detailing the effects of Dylan’s influential song, The Time They Are A Changin’, points out that the acclaimed poet illustrates “If we don’t see the changes occurring as opportunities to evolve, we might just metaphorically ‘sink like a stone’ under the wave of change” (Jones, “The Times They Are A- Changin’… But are We?”). He contends that change is inevitable, as shown by Dylan in his text, but “The larger concern should be how we manage the process when it does happen.” In his song, The Times They Are A-Changin’, Dylan implores Americans to accept the inevitable extension of rights to minorities with open arms to usher in the progressive future of the nation.

One of Dylan’s less abstract protests songs, Hurricane, details the true story of Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, a young African-American who was found guilty of a murder he did not commit. Dylan recounts the events of the trial, stating that “All of Rubin’s cards were marked in advance The trial was a pig-circus, he never had a chance” (Dylan). He continues, singing that “And though they could not produce the gun The D.A. said he was the one who did the deed” to illustrate the justice system’s lack of significant proof to incriminate Carter and the unjust follow through to send him to jail despite this. Dylan continues to express that he could not help but “feel ashamed to live in a land where justice is just a game.” Dylan undermines the integrity of the justice system by calling it a “game” to illustrate the absolute lack of so-called “justice” when it comes to the trials of African-Americans. David Boucher claims that Hurricane as well as other songs by Dylan were made in part to ask those in power to help Rubin Carter obtain his liberty after his unjust trial. Dylan’s unusual rock hit extended the contemporary political culture by addressing unfair treatment of minorities by the nation’s justice system.

Bob Dylan, through his profound and historically relevant writing, has cemented himself as a part of American civil rights history. His songs and poetry accurately illustrate the tone and themes of the movement and found their way into its heart and soul. By illustrating events and messages regarding civil rights, Dylan successfully furthered its reach, allowing the extension of civil rights to arrive quickly through placing pressure on society to change or become outcasts, as illustrated in The Times They Are A-Changin’. Dylan’s themes of equality and civil rights remain relevant in modern times in America and across the globe as people continue to fight for their rights against unjust oppression.

Works Cited

Boucher, David. "Dylan from Magic to Poetry." Contemporary Literary Criticism, edited by Jeffrey W. Hunter, vol. 308, Gale, 2011. Literature Resource Center,

Dylan, Bob" Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2016. Literature Resource Center.

Jones, Dennis Merritt. “'The Times They Are A-Changin'... But Are We?” The Huffington Post, TheHuffingtonPost.com, 28 Aug. 2011.

Scales, Pat. "Times a-changin'." Booklist, 1 Jan. 2017, p. S40. Literature Resource Center,

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