Good Literature Review On Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall
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All literature is, to some extent, a product of the context, the environment in which the creator lives. This environment could be immediate (such as within the immediate community and the people one interacts with in their daily lives) or broader (such as global).
Bob Dylan’s A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall is not different. The lyrics and seem to speak much for the times in which it was created (1962-1963). Most importantly, it explores a wide range of themes that seemed to have dominated the American and global social and political spaces. It explores themes and imagery that speak of injustice, warfare, pollution, suffering, among others. To best understand how context may have inspired this song (or poem), it is important to understand the context (immediate and broader) in which it was created.
When Bob Dylan wrote this song in 1962, the cold war was at its peak, the Soviet Union bringing the war closer to the United States’ doorstep. The alliance between the Soviet Union and Cuba was getting comfortable, with the Soviet Union reportedly increasing its military aide (with conventional arms) to the US’s next door neighbor even as J.F. Kennedy’s administration watched with worry. Years later, it would be reported that on August 29, 1962, a US U-2 spy plane flying over Cuba spotted eight missile installations under construction (Associated Press B-19). But the most important aspect of the cold war, one that would arguably be central to Dylan’s A Hard Rain, would be the intense nuclear arms race between the US and the Soviet Union, each side trying to outdo the other (make bigger and/or more powerful bombs) regardless of the obvious danger of such weapons.
The most likely and more immediate inspiration may have been the Cuba Missile Crisis of 1962. With the Soviet having moved its nuclear warheads to Cuba in case it needed to launch an attack fast, the US responded with the threat to retaliate in kind. This was the one time that US and the Soviet Union, and of course the world, came closest to a nuclear warfare. Like everyone else, Bob Dylan never knew how the crisis would conclude.
Many have argued that the ‘Hard Rain’ that closes every verse refers to nuclear fallout. Dylan himself denied this in a radio interview in 1963. He says that the ‘Hard Rain’ meant just hard rain and nothing else.
However, one cannot deny the allusion to the possible effects of a nuclear warfare that are evident in this line and many other parts of the poem, especially considering the timing of its release. For example, in verse two, Dylan sings of “ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken”. This may refer to a lot of things and could mean different to Dylan. But broken tongues cannot speak clearly, make words and sounds stand out. In other words, you cannot trust what you here from a broken tongue. The ideological differences between America (and its allies) and the Soviet Union (and its allies) may have been divided into capitalism and communism. But these were the broader issues. Otherwise, there are a lot of other incoherent issues on which the people who represented these two sides could not agree. But even more, these people could not be trusted because, far from the notion that they fought for their belief in what would constitute better governance and a better world, these wars were actually for selfish reasons. The next line, “I saw guns and sharp swords in the hand of the young children”, Dylan may have implied that the capitalism-communism wrangles had ended creating a divided world, people on one side hating the other for what they did not necessarily understand- just like children. In other words, and again just like children, the people were puppets to the propaganda by the two sides.
The same could apply to the racial rife in that was also dominant in America’s 1960s public space; that people had been split on the basis of color, itself an incoherent (broken tongues) basis for division; and, like children, people were up in arms for what they did not know or understand. Blacks were on the streets with civil rights movement amplifying its voice and calling for more rights and open space for the progress of blacks (George-Warren & Patricia, 288).
The song’s last verse focuses on what the people will do in the face of the issues mentioned or implied (from historical point of view) in the verses above. What will people do in the face of nuclear arms race, social and racial injustice, power elite, etc. Ultimately, the song is said to have been patterned after a British folk ballad (entitled “Lord Randall”) from the final stages of the 19th century. In this ballad, a mother repeatedly asks her son “Where have you been? In the end, it is revealed that the son is poisoned and he dies (George-Warren & Patricia, 287). Whether the choice to base this song on this ballad is conscious or not, that Dylan could be cynic about the future is not such a far-fetched theme.
Indeed, while Dylan denies that Hard Rain has anything to do with the cold war, the allusion is too strong to deny. Besides, according to Freud’s theory, the unconscious may reveal itself in subtle ways (Weiten 171). In Dylans’s case, however, especially in relation to this song A Hard Rain, the unconscious (his fears and cynicism in the face of the surrounding context) may have revealed themselves in more than just subtle ways.
Associated Press. Cuba Charges U.S. With Air Violations, Washington Post, Times
Herald, July 2, 1962. Web.
George-Warren, Holly & Romanowski, Patricia (eds). Bob Dylan, in The Rolling
Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll. New York: Rolling Stone Press, 3rd Edition, 2001. Print.
Weiten, Wayne. Psychology: Themes and Variations. Cengage Learning, 2011. Print.
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