John Brown

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  • Q1

    What kind of a woman was John Brown’s mother? What can you say about the relationship that she shared with her son?

    Marks:20
    Answer:

    The poem ‘John Brown’ talks about John Brown, the soldier who exhibits his heroism in the battlefield to please his mother, but eventually realises the futility of the war.Bob Dylan describes the vanity of the mother’s heart when he describes how her face breaks into a grin when she sees him in his uniform. She is already thinking of the umpteen medals and laurels that will be bestowed upon him for his services in the war. She is pompous and takes immense pride in her son for being a soldier, but overlooks the harsh possibility of death that the war could inflict upon him.

    Being a mother, she should definitely be proud of her son fighting for his country; however, she only focuses on the accolades and medals that he will get. She does not spare a thought for the ordeals that he willhave to endure. Being a soldier and taking lives are not easy tasks. But she doesn’t worry much when receives no letter from him for ten months. The opportunity to see her soldier son returning with medals from the war thrills her as she can now proudly be called the mother of a war veteran. When she sees John, she doesn’t recognize him. He is not the same person that he was when he left for the war. He is completely broken, mentally and physically. He was blinded by a canon and lost his arm fighting. The war also left him psychologically disturbed as he realized the futility of it. But, none of this concerns the mother at first.

    Bob has exhibited John’s discontent at his mother who, he felt, was unmindful of the pain that he endured in the war, both physically and mentally. He says that his mother betrothed herself to the vanity of being called a soldier’s mother, which made her unconscious of his agony that her son was going to experience in the war. He gets rather disillusioned as he realizes that the soldiers are but pawns in the hands of governments or authorities. He gets shocked when he sees that the enemy he is supposed to fight looks a lot like him. His mother doesn’t understand any of this because she was not in his shoes. So he drops all the medals that he earned in her hands before he turns to leave.

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  • Q2

    Comment on the various themes of the poem ‘John Brown’

    Marks:20
    Answer:

    In the song John Brown, Bob Dylan has expressed his thoughts about the idea of war, and its effects on the soldiers. In the poem, we are told that wars are fought for inexplicable causes and soldiers are nothing but pawns used to satisfy some authority’s ego. In the fight that ensues between two different entities, the soldiers are the ones who suffer the most. Their lives are more often than not collateral damages as those who survive come back home with broken bodies and psychological disorders.

    John Brown, the titular hero of the song, realises that due to someone’s irrational whims he was fighting other soldiers, who looked no different from him. Other than being an anti-war song, John Brown is also about the retribution that the ceremonial hero experiences unknowingly. He becomes a soldier to please his mother, who thinks that going to the war is the ‘best thing’ her son could do. The song unveils the depth of a wounded soldier’s feelings and unravels the dark side of the war. Therefore, John Brown is an anti-war poem.

    Along with it being critical of wars in general, the poem also explores the problem of the glorious attraction of wars. People glorify wars just like John Brown’s mother did. She thought that becoming a soldier and going to fight in the war was the best thing her son could do. This is a common phenomenon all over the world. People not only glorify the wars but also tend to worship the soldiers as heroes. While it is true that the soldiers show tremendous courage in fighting the war, it should not be forgotten that these ‘heroes’ suffer too much just because certain political entities wish to overshadow their enemies through a display of power. The poet debunks the myth of heroism associated with fighting the war through the eponymous character John Brown. On the battlefield, John Brown starts to wonder what he was doing. When he sees the enemy at close quarters, he is shocked to see that there is no difference between the enemy and himself. It is then that he realizes that he is nothing but a “puppet in a play”.

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  • Q3

    Comment on the form and structure of the song “John Brown”.

    Marks:20
    Answer:

    The song is composed of twelve verses that narrate the story of John Brown. It doesn’t follow any set rhyme scheme, but a few stanzas use rhyming words, such as –

    ‘neighbourhood’ and ‘understood’ in stanza 3;

    ‘way’ and ‘away’ in stanza 8;

    ‘tryin’ and ‘mine’ in stanza 10;

    ‘play’ and ‘away’ in stanza 11;

    and ‘stand’ and ‘hand’ in stanza 12.

    Bob has used certain literary devices in his song to bring out the essence of a great anti-war song.In the song, he has repeated a few phrases/ lines such as:

    Oh! Good old-fashioned war! – In this phrase Bob has captured the spirit of a futile war. A war that commences from a wrong reason rears nothing called glory.

    Oh! Lord! Not even recognise his face! – This phrase brings out the trepidation that the war inflicted upon John, who did not die in the war, but suffered in the most horrendous manner one can imagine.

    Oh! Lord! Just like mine! – In this phrase John has voiced his scepticism over the purpose of the war. As he found the enemy soldier’s face similar to his face, he is baffled about the relevance of killing one’s own kind.

    Dylan has used Alliteration in the lyrics of his song. A few consonant sounds are repeated to create a flow in the song. For example:

    “…fight on a foreign shore”

    “He stood straight…”

    “I was just a puppet in a play.”

    “And he dropped his medals down into her hand.”

    The final lines of the song express irony as John Brown succeeds in fulfilling his mother’s desire of him winning medals in the war. Unfortunately, this happens after he paying hugely for the cause. His mother is far from happy on taking medals from her soldier son who is crippled for life by the war.

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  • Q4

    Though Bob Dylan has denied it, ‘John Brown’ is primarily thought of as an anti-war poem/song. Do you agree?

    Marks:20
    Answer:

    In the song ‘John Brown’, Bob Dylan has expressed his thoughts about war, and its effects on the soldiers.Though he has defended himself by saying that he is not a pacifist and that he has never been one, the song John Brown clearly expresses his disapproval of the same.

    The poem focuses on the young man ‘John Brown’ who proudly goes off to war to fulfill his mother’s wishes. John Brown fights the war and meanwhile his mother brags about him to the whole neighbourhood. She receives letters from her son in the beginning and after a while the letters stop. After a gap, she receives a letter asking her to meet her son who is coming home from the war.

    The mood of the poem changes when the mother sees her son. She is unable to recognize him at first. His eyes are blown up and he has lost a hand. He is able to stand up because of a metal brace that he wears. He is not able to open his mouth and speak clearly. He breaks his mother’s illusion of war being something glorious when he tells her about her experience. Regardless of what Dylan has said about the poem, this part of the poem paints a rather gruesome picture of war and expresses disapproval of wars in general. John Brown tells his mother that she was acting proud while he was fighting the war because she wasn’t in his shoes.

    He tells her that when he got there, he no longer knew what he was doing there. He didn’t understand what purpose he was serving by killing someone. Seeing the enemy at close proximity was the turning point for him. John Brown was shocked to discover that the enemy looked just like him and this shock led to a realization that he was just a pawn fighting a pointless war meant to satisfy somebody’s ego. He felt like a puppet in a play. By the time this realization struck him, a cannonball blew his eyes away. The poet shows us the reality of a battleground and the truth about the condition of the soldiers who do fight a war. The poet seems to be critical of those people who glorify war. Therefore, the poem is predominantly anti-war.

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