ISC Reverie John Brown : theme of fatality of war


John Brown

Question: Discuss the theme of the poem ‘John Brown’.

Answer: The theme of entire poem “John Brown” is “The fatality of war.”
    Bob Dylan, by means of the story of John Brown shows the fatal consequences of war. Instead of glorifying and romanticising war,’John Brown’ shows realistic details of the kind of horror and senseless deaths that a war causes.

      Since ancient times, war was glorified and the horrors and darkness of war were ignored to make it seem worthwhile honourable and  romantic endeavour. The young men are sent to the battlefield  in the name of glory for their country or rulers. They are appealed by tradition and culture which promise them attainment of heaven and heroism if they die for their country.

      The supposedly just cause behind these wars are unknown not only to the civilians but also to the soldiers fighting at the battlefield. They are made pawns in the hands of war mongers for  their own selfish purposes. Dylan’s song through the character of John Brown depicts how fatal a war can be.
       John Brown, a handsome young soldier goes off to fight in a war. His mother feels proud on seeing her son dressed in a soldier’s uniform with gun in his hand. But the gruesome reality is that the same war which wins him medals, reduce him to be a victim of war and leaves him  disfigured. He comes back home with his face all shot up,his hand blown off and with a metal brace around his waist. This war  does not kill him physically but leaves him shattered, both physically and mentally. His condition becomes so wretched that he could hardly speak.
       His mother who had been seen him off happily at the railway station while he was going to war,is so disappointed and distressed by his condition that she turns her face away from him.
     All the soldiers fighting in the war ,though fighting on behalf of their respective countries, are themselves victims of the same war. They have to go through both physical and mental hardships on the battlefield. Their bodies get disfigured, they become crippled. The worst part is that they get killed by the enemy.
      War is thus so  fatal that it forces a man to act inhumanly against its own race. This is what scares John Brown the most , that his enemy looks just like him. Both the soldiers, at the end ,were victims of the same war. Both of them have to pay much more than the cost of those medals.
       In the poem John Brown, who becomes “a puppet in a play” can be seen as the representative of any soldier fighting for  false glory. John Brown’s mother can be seen as the representative of all those who glorify war in the name of heroism, gallantry and glory and force young men to be a part of such dreadful events. But she was not aware of the reality of the war. She did not face the battle ground herself and thus thought that war was a glorious event. For this John says –
             “You wasn’t there standing in my shoes”

     John Brown’s mother realises the true nature of the war when she saw him disfigured and crippled after the war. Now her false Pride gets shattered. She stands shocked unable to comprehend the ugliness of war.
        The poem ‘John Brown’ has presented the battlefield as a site where soldiers succumb to horrible violence and bloodshed. Therefore those who idealise war , should stop infusing the youth with false notions of war. Only then it would be possible to save the world from the horrors of war.

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