John Brown's Song as an Image of Harsh Reality of the War

John Brown is an anti-war song written by Dylan in 1962. It tells the story of a young man, John Brown who proudly marched off to war expecting to find glory and win medals but returned many months later “all shot up”, with a disfigured face, and was barely able to talk. He told his mother of his horrible experience on the battlefield, and how he felt like a “puppet in a play”. The song ends with him dropping his medals in his mother’s hand. The reason why I chose this statement is because a major chunk of the population considers war to be a glorious affair, a matter of pride even though it is not so. The propaganda that wars and battles are a mark of the nation's power and are a thing to be proud of has been brainwashed in the people for centuries. The people who glorify war themselves sit comfortably at their homes and treat the soldiers like disposable pawns. They do not know the agony and pain that the families of the martyr’s face and take all the credit for winning the war. Hence, I chose this question to put forth my beliefs that war is an unnecessary evil, to highlight the grim aftermath of this brutal affair and to eclipse the apparent importance of wars.

I plan to go about the topic “fatal consequences of war” in the following way. Firstly, I will be highlighting how the poem ‘John Brown’ is an emotional rollercoaster where we can see an anticlimax of emotions, from glorious pride to descending agony and anxiety. Next, I will be bringing to light the harsh realities of war and how it is portrayed in the poem. Then, I will be setting forth the horrors of war and the impact it has on the innocent victims that get sandwiched between two inhumane and warring factions. I will also be revealing how war never causes any good, and ultimately the gain of temporal possessions and success matters nothing to a devastated man. Lastly, I would like to conclude by emphasizing the lasting impression which the war had on both John Brown and his mother.

Emotional Rollercoaster

Bob Dylan, through this poem brings to light the reality of war and compares it to how people see war as a means of pride. The poet skillfully depicts the various emotions of both the mother and the son through various stages of their journeys. We see the mother is very proud of her son at first as he is going to fight for his country. She expects him to return with a lot of medals which would further fill her with pride. Slowly as time progresses, the mother goes through bouts of happiness whenever she receives a letter from her “now soldier” son. This emotion soon turns into anxiety when the frequency of these letters decreases and eventually fades away.

Reality of War

The Poet in an extremely cold and graphic description brings to the fore the ever so common consequence of war and the destruction it brings to humanity in general. In a small yet thought provoking and emotional conversation with his mother, John Brown compares his day of return in a broken condition to his day of departure filled with expectations and glory. The harsh reality of war is also blatantly brought to the fore when the mother herself is unable to bear the sight of her son’s disfigured face. Not being in her son’s shoes, John Brown’s mother was unable to gauge what her son will probably go through in the line of fire. She could not fathom what could cause this level of devastation when she had actually sent her son on the path of unsurmountable glory.

Horrors of War

War is so fatal that it forces a man to act inhumanely against his own race. This is what scared John Brown as his enemy whom he intended to kill looked just like him and both the soldiers, at the end were the victims of the same war. They were duty bound and if needed would have to kill their own brothers. In his uniform, fully armed and poised to do exactly what he set out to achieve, John Brown went through a moment of realization that there is no glory in war after all. Bob Dylan ridicules the flawed idealization of war instead of glorifying or romanticizing it. It criticizes how wars were glorified and its horrors were ignored. Innocent people get killed; children are left without parents living on streets with decades of recovery needed. Soldiers can get scarred for life with images of death in their minds, leading to sleepless nights, inability to manage the usual challenges of life and possibly even leading to suicide in many cases. War brings neither wealth nor honour. The outcome of war is the loss of property and precious lives. It only brings misery to human beings.

Loss of Human Life and Loss of Live in a Living Human 

John Brown, who set foot outside the comfort of his home to bear the weight of the security of his country on his young shoulders, could not even stand straight upon his return. Aided by a metal brace to keep him upright, he had for certain lost the quality of his future life despite escaping alive. Bob Dylan through his closing lines expresses how the medals that John Brown earned in the battlefield absolutely did not mean anything to him.

The Lasting Impression

John Brown’s mother had thought that the one most lasting impression of her life would always remain that moment when her son left for the battlefield as a soldier. In stark contrast to this expectation her one most lasting impression of life would always be her injured son speaking in horror about his tryst with a cannonball that was about to blow his eyes away.


The poem about John Brown expresses how soldiers are treated like puppets in the hands of aggressors. They are expected to slaughter their enemies without a hint of remorse or sympathy. Any kind of war in any country is as terrible as it gets. Soldiers are affected both physically and psychologically in any war they participate in. Being a soldier is much more than winning medals, as after all the life of a human being is on the line every time they go to war. The poet is expertly able to convey how for the lucky few who escaped without physical injuries, the mental scars shall reside in them and their loved ones forever  

07 July 2022
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