The Times They Are A-Changin’ Historical Analysis

8 August 2016

Change has been present throughout the history of time. The lyrical ballad “The Times They Are A-Changin'” was written by Bob Dylan in the 1960’s, a time in which there was a major shift in political and social reform. Dylan, who was actually born as Robert Allen Zimmerman took on the role of ‘the’ folksinger-songwriter of the protest movement, after writing “The Times They Are A-Changin. ” This lyrical ballad established Dylan as the ultimate songwriter of the 60’s protest movement.

Not only did he emerge as one of the most original and poetic voices of American popular music, “Bob Dylan has recently been described by Newsweek critic David Gates as ‘the most influential cultural figure now alive. ’” (Santa) In his lyrical ballad, Dylan illustrates the historical events and changes in the 1960’s. From the beginning of the ballad to the end there is a reoccurring line, “for the times they are a-changin'” (11, 22, 33, 44, 55) The 1960’s like any era was a time of change for many people.

In the first stanza Dylan uses water to portray the changes that have occurred. “And admit that the waters around you have grown,” (lines 3-4) which represents that a change has already taken place. Since the “water” has grown new ideas and thoughts have been added to the old. Change should be accepted. “You’ll be drenched to the bone,” (6) because it will be prevalent all around. Dylan suggests if time and success are important “then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone,” (lines 9-10) meaning learn the new or get left behind with the old.

Dylan invites the media, “come writers and critics who prophesize with your pen,”(lines 12-13) and challenges them to be real journalists by publicizing the truth. The next four lines of the ballad consist of instructions for those particular journalists. He advises that they should pay attention, “And keep your eyes wide”(14). He also warns them not to make quick judgments for the change is still in progress. “And don’t speak too soon for the wheel’s are still in spin”(lines 16-17). The metaphoric wheel is still spinning because a final decision has not yet been declared.

The motion of the wheel infers that there are changes that are still being made. In accordance to the 1960’s, these changes are about the civil rights movement, treatment of minorities, and the ideologies from the new generation. In the third stanza Dylan addresses the government officials. He urges them to pay careful attention to the evolution of society. “Don’t stand in the doorway don’t block up the hall,”(lines 25-26) are lines referring to when Alabama Governor George Wallace blocked the entrance of the University of Alabama from two African American students in 1963.

As stated in the first stanza change should be accepted. If one does not change, they will get hurt. “There’s a battle outside and it’s ragin’,” (lines 29-30) is directing the attention towards the battle of races. In this time period there was a lot of tension between “white” and “black” Americans. Many “whites” were against the progression of African Americans. Dylan expresses that these tensions will be so high that they will be unavoidable. In the fourth stanza Dylan targets the parents of the new generation. With a new generation come new ideas and new perspectives.

He tells the parents not to criticize the beliefs of the future generation. “In the mid-to-late 1960s, there occurred a major schism in the movement between those who favored integration and those younger people who had abandoned the principles of the early movement in favor of nationalism, separatism, communism, socialism—in other words, for a multiplicity of ideologies”(Gillespie). Most of the older generation did not care much for change and progression. On the other hand, the younger generation was carving out future plans.

Some pushed for integration while others scoffed at the idea. The younger generation was ready for a change and no one would be able to stop them. The older mentality and ideology would soon fade away. Dylan pleads, “Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend a hand,” (lines 42-43) meaning if one isn’t willing to stand, protest and fight for what is right they should move aside. The final stanza states that it is too late to stop the change. Like fate, whatever is supposed to happen will indeed happen. “The line is drawn,” (45) meaning that change is present and already set.

The line “The curse it is cast,” (46) means that it cannot be taken back. It must run its course until the superior outcome has been reached. When Dylan mentions the “slow ones” he is speaking about African Americans and any other minority. Three times throughout the lyrical ballad he mentions a notion that the ones in the end will come out on top. “For the loser now will be later to win,” (lines 20-21) “The slow one now will later be fast,” (lines 47-48) “And the first one now will later be last,” (lines 53-54) are all lines that prove this notion.

Dylan confidently states that the ones in the end will prevail. He suggests that there will be a day when African American men, women and children will all be treated equally. This inequality and unfair treatment of minorities would soon be in the past because the times are changing. Since Dylan did not use specific examples in his lyrics, they can be related to any time period in history. However it is clear that the events that occurred in the 1960’s are able to fit well into the ballad. Change is so prevalent this ballad can be applied even in today’s fast paced world.

With his reoccurring line Dylan repeats to the audience that the times are changing. He is reminding the listeners that one day the ones who are behind will emerge as victors. “The struggle for civil rights in America centers on the notion that no one in a society is free until everyone in it is free” (Watts). For a society in the 1960s to be free, a change had to be made which would allow minorities to be equal. The whole ballad focuses on a change for a better, stronger, and united future.

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