Tragic Folk Hero: Woody Guthrie

1967 Words8 Pages
According to the late, tragic folk hero, Joe Hill, “A good song could be learned and remembered, while a pamphlet would be read once and thrown away.” (Weissman, 175) Such an idea proves its validity when examining the long-lasting professional and societal success of the depression-era folk protest singer, Woody Guthrie. Throughout his adolescence and his adventures as a box-car musician during the early 1930s, Guthrie faced hardships unparalleled by popular singers of his day. Taken aback by the horrors he witnessed as the dust bowl and the Great Depression tore through the badlands he called home, Guthrie faced emotional turmoil, both in himself, and in the society that surrounded him. By transforming these emotional struggles into incredibly…show more content…
In his textbook, 33 Revolutions a Minute - A History of Protest Songs, from Billie Holiday to Green Day, Dorian Lynskey explains that, “by cloaking his intelligence, artistry, and radicalism in hillbilly vernacular and plain common sense” (Lynskey, 14), Guthrie could sing from a position of familiarity to the unfortunate Americans he encountered during his travels. This sort of cultural identification rings most true in his hit song, “This Land is Your Land.” In “This Land is Your Land,” Guthrie sings about the beautiful American landscape he has encountered in his travels, arguing that this land was made for “you and me,” rather than the corporate elite whose greed left the common man to rot in the southern United States. Guthrie condemns the elite most poignantly in a verse that has been largely lost throughout time, “In the squares of the city, in the shadow of a steeple/By the relief office, I saw my people/As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking/Is this land made for you and me?” (“This Land is Your Land”, Guthrie) In one short verse, Guthrie rips at the morality of America’s elite, condemning them for their disregard of the common man, and simultaneously asking the average American if their country truly supports every man, or just the successful businessmen who abuse the system for their own hoggish ends. In an ironic twist, this song lives on in American pop-culture as a nationalistic pride song, a sharp contrast to its original purpose as an invigorating protest
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