Bob Dylan: unexpected but qualified

The word ‘literature’ tends to spark thoughts of novels and writers like Charles Dickens. How many people hear that word and think of guitars, harmonicas and Bob Dylan? Probably not many. Naturally, that meant when Dylan received the Nobel Prize award in literature this past week, there was some controversy about the outcome; some loved it and others thought it was an outrage.

Toni Morrison was the last American to receive the award in 1993. Since then the world and the United States has continued to evolve and gain knowledge on many different kinds of information and lifestyles, including the definition of ‘literature.’ But is it really as unexpected as many upset novelists have made it appear? Lyrics have always been known to be a subsection of poetry that express ideas and stories. Isn’t that what literature is—an art of storytelling?

Maybe it would help if people stopped the arguments and analyzed the heart of what Dylan is being awarded for—his songs. Listed below are Dylan’s five most popular songs on iTunes:

“Like a Rolling Stone”
Dylan paints a vivid picture of a woman who once had the perfect life but ends up with nothing. A classic rock guitar and drum combination compliments his story, along with an organ and harmonica. The lyrics display an observant look at what can give a person worth and how those particulars can be easily shattered.

“The Times They are A-Changin’”
As the title might suggest, this tune discusses the constant motion of the world. Nothing remains the same and just when we get accustomed to a way of life, chances are it will change again. “Your old road is rapidly agin’/ please get out of the new one / if you can’t lend a hand / for the times they are a’changin’,” Dylan sings.


This song is a narrative about a black man nicknamed “Hurricane.” It has a powerful message that addresses the racial differences in our country. One of the most memorable sections is when Dylan says, “In Patterson that’s just the way things go / if you’re black you might as well not shown up on the street / ‘less you wanna draw the heat.” The sentiment still relates to our situation today, in light of recent racial tensions, which is another reason Dylan’s writing speaks to the world.

“Blowin’ in the Wind”
“How many times can a man turn his head / and pretend that he just doesn’t see?” is one of many similar convicting inquiries that make up this tune. It speaks of humanity and our perception of things, questioning how long it takes for definitions or realizations to be drawn from scenarios. Sometimes humanity tends to be stuck in false realities, and Dylan exemplifies his deep understanding of that.

“Tangled Up in Blue”
This narrative centers on the relationship of the speaker and a woman. They transition from being close, to not seeing each other, to running into each other again. What an interesting thought this song addresses—how two people can be intertwined. Some people will continue to crop up when least expected.

Maybe Dylan does not have an immediate association to literature for most, but he fits the bill. His songs are introspective and thought-provoking, as effective as any Emily Dickinson or T. S. Eliot poem.
Dylan knows how to provide a wide lens that zooms in on all kinds of people and difficulties. Through his music, Dylan proves that songs have the capability to captivate and move people just as much as any novel.

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