Critical analysis of Bob Dylan's 1975 song, "The Hurricane".
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Critical Analysis Paul C. Davis Mary K. Grabowski June 25, 2003 The 1960's was a decade of social and political upheaval. Most notably, the Civil Rights Movement, or rather the black man and woman's struggle for equality, defines this period of time in the United States. The energy of the civil rights gains led by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. carried over into the 1960s. However, for most blacks, the tangible results were minimal. New groups and goals were formed, new tactics devised, to push forward for full equality. Yet this impetus, more often than not, was met with white resistance. A quintessential illustration of this white resistance is the story of Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, whose misfortunes dramatically spilled over into the television and music worlds. Bob Dylan's 1975 song, "The Hurricane" vividly describes not only the struggle of Rubin Carter against white resistance but simultaneously depicts how the new groups, new goals and new tactics that were devised in the 1960's to push forward for full equality produced minimal results. There are many elements of interest in Bob Dylan's vision in "The Hurricane". Several of these elements are his awareness of both the miseries and virtues of the down-trodden, his sense of the viciousness of the present United States society, and his hatred of war" (Davey).
Beyond using a narrative as well as audience analysis, Bob Dylan also uses language, which is not only vivid and at times vulgar, but most importantly, powerful. One of the most important questions raised when listening and reading the lyrics to "The Hurricane" is whether or not the language is appropriate for the audience and the time. The Zarefsky text warns that it is important not to make audience members feel patronized, guilty or threatened by the message. However, as stated above, Dylan's credibility allows him to utilize this language with a minimal loss of the audience's attention. Regional differences and culture are also important when considering language use. For instance, a certain word or phrase may possess a certain degree of appropriateness in one demographic region than it does in another. In correlation to this idea is Dylan's use of the word "nigger" in the following lines: "The judge made Rubin's witnesses drunkards from the slums To the white folks who watched he was a revolutionary bum And to the black folks he was just a crazy nigger. No one doubted that he pulled the trigger..." In these statements, Dylan purposely associates black men and women with lower social and economic standards in order to shock certain demographic regions of his audience, in particular, illustrating major differences between Northern and Southern cultures at that time.
But then they took him to the jail house Where they try to turn a man into a mouse. All of Rubin's cards were marked in advance The trial was a pig-circus, he never had a chance. The judge made Rubin's witnesses drunkards from the slums To the white folks who watched he was a revolutionary bum And to the black folks he was just a crazy nigger. No one doubted that he pulled the trigger . And though they could not produce the gun, The D.A. said he was the one who did the deed And the all-white jury agreed. Rubin Carter was falsely tried. The crime was murder "one," guess who testified? Bello and Bradley and they both baldly lied And the newspapers, they all went along for the ride. How can the life of such a man Be in the palm of some fool's hand? To see him obviously framed Couldn't help but make me feel ashamed to live in a land Where justice is a game. Now all the criminals in their coats and their ties Are free to drink martinis and watch the sun rise While Rubin sits like Buddha in a ten-foot cell An innocent man in a living hell. That's the story of the Hurricane, But it won't be over till they clear his name And give him back the time he's done. Put in a prison cell, but one time he could-a been The champion of the world.
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