Woody Guthrie Critical Context - Essay

Critical Context

In his preface, Klein says that he wrote Woody Guthrie because of his interest in folk music, “a primitive tradition, carried through the ages by common people who wished to express their joy and anger and frustrations through music.” In addition, a full-scale biography of Guthrie had not yet been written. By the late 1970’s, the political climate of the United States had changed so that a biography of Guthrie that pulled no political or personal punches could be written.

Woody Guthrie is an important book in demythologizing the figure of Guthrie as an optimistic hobo who traveled across the United States in boxcars, stopping occasionally in some town long enough to write a socially significant folk song. He was much more complex than that, and Klein presents Guthrie in all of his complexity—his leftist political views, plain-spoken humor, huge sexual appetite, lax habits of personal hygiene, and songwriting genius.

For young adults wishing to discover the roots of socially significant music and learn about a songwriter whose work made America pay attention to the culture of its common folk, Woody Guthrie stands as an important biography. For those beginning to shape their own artistic vision, Guthrie serves as a model of someone who followed his artistic passion and interests, interacted with the life around him, and transformed that life into art.