The tone of Bob Dylan’s 1962 song “Blowin’ in the Wind,” which was released in 1963 but recorded the previous year, is one of frustration and disappointment. Dylan was an extraordinarily influential songwriter and performer whose song was amazingly prescient given the direction in which the United States was heading at the time he was writing and recording “Blowin’ in the Wind.” Compare, for example, the country’s atmosphere later in the decade with that which existed when Dylan sat down to write this song. In 1962, President John F. Kennedy was still president and the hope that had accompanied his election had not yet been destroyed by assassination and war. American military involvement in Vietnam was still in its infancy, and the major expansion of the U.S. role there was still several years in the future. The country and the world, however, had its problems, including the tensions surrounding the Cold War and the ongoing struggle for civil rights among the African American community.
Note in the following passages from “Blowin’ in the Wind” the author’s plea for awareness and action to address the injustices that existed not just in the United States but around the world:
How many times must the cannon balls fly
Before they're forever banned? ...
How many years must some people exist
Before they're allowed to be free?
And how many times can a man turn his head
And pretend that he just doesn't see ...
How many times can a man look up
Before he sees the sky?
How many ears must one person have
Before he can hear people cry?
And how many deaths will it take 'till he knows
That too many people have died?
Dylan is pleading for people to wake up and recognize the ugliness around them and the need to act to correct the injustices that they routinely ignore. Again, the United States was not yet heavily embroiled in the war in Southeast Asia. The Cuban Missile Crisis was still months away when the lyrics were written. All in all, things could have been—and would become—much worse. Dylan, however, was not oblivious to the wrongs he saw around him at that time. He was exasperated by the dearth of accountability he was witnessing among his fellow humans. Wars were still a prominent feature of global affairs and black people continued to exist under laws and practices intended to keep them subservient. The tone of “Blowin’ in the Wind” is sadness and anger.
Figurative language, a common feature of poetry and lyrics, are readily visible in Dylan’s lyrics. Indeed, the song’s title and refrain, “blowin’ in the wind,’ represents a use of repetition and idiom. The wind does not actually communicate messages to people; Dylan uses the phrase to emphasize the obliviousness of the injustices on the part of the public and the fact that people refuse to acknowledge problems that do not affect them personally. When Dylan sings that people do not hear the cries of others he asks rhetorically “how many ears must one person have” before he can hear those cries. When he asks, “how many years can a mountain exist Before it's washed to the sea,” he is alluding not to actual geographic formations but to the obviousness of problems that are ignored until it is too late.