Woody Guthrie composed “This Land Is Your Land” in 1940 with the hope of proving the Americans to diverse views. The poem is well known, and it is considered the nation’s patriotic anthem. While the composition is supposed to promote patriotism, some of the song’s stanzas contradict the tune’s intended theme. For instance, the poem says, “In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people, By the relief office I seen my people; As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking, Is this land made for you and me?” (Guthrie). These words were inappropriate at the time, and as a result, they were omitted from the song because they were considered radical and contradicted the spirit of patriotism. Apart from promoting patriotism, the song “This Land Is Your Land” evokes radical emotions regarding the struggles of the American population
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The poem will be analyzed using historical criticism and Social and Marxist Criticism approaches. These approaches let a reader perceive the actual images the writer is attempting to evoke through writing (Jackson 249). They allow the poem reviewer to evaluate literature by placing it in the context of the written time. Guthrie’s poem, This Land Is Your Land, visualizes the political environment experienced during the 1960s. Riots and political rallies in America characterized that period. Guthrie’s poem was an answer to Irvin Berling’s song “God Bless America.” In his song, Berlin says; “As I was walkin’ – I saw a sign there, And that sign said – no trespassin’ But on the other side … it didn’t say nothin! Now that side was made for you and me!” which are the probable words that triggered Guthrie’s feelings to what was happening during that period (Jackson 249). He grew up in a small town where he saw his neighbors struggling in life (Blakemore 4). To make meaning in life, he adopted Berling’s song, altered the song title, and recorded it for the first time in 1944.
A closer analysis of Guthrie’s song “This Land Is Your Land” reveals his mastery and expertise in using imageries which arouse the feelings in his audience. Words in the last three stanzas shift the songs to more of a political and poverty struggle themes relevant for the time. His talent and skills of painting with words made the song “This Land is Your Land” to be used during the war to evoke patriotism. In light of fostering the unity and the pride of the people and their flag, the last three stanzas were removed from the song as they contained unpatriotic words (Jackson 249). The first line of the song uses its title and attracts listeners’ attention with the phrases “Network to California and redwood forest to the Gulf Stream.” He used these phrases to mention entire America, that everyone should love every part of it no matter where they live. The second stanza of the song is focused on the beauty of America. The singer tried to remind people of the beauty of America.
By using the Social and Marxist Criticism approach, the song presents firm social ideals and principles that Guthrie held following the political experiences during the 1940s and 1950s. They are identified throughout the words in the song that present significant ramifications of social institutionalism. Although the song was first recorded in 1944, it was not released to the public immediately. It was only released in 1956 when several movements actively tried to challenge a potential influence of socialism.
The last three verses were intentionally not released to the public to avoid any suspicion of being supporting communism (Jackson 249). Following the presence of Social Criticism and Marxist Criticism, in the song “ This Land is Your Land” the last three stanzas were removed due to the political influence they carried, and fear that it could turn people to violence (Blakemore 2). For instance, the last three verses make Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” evoke sad, impoverished feelings in the general public. Further, he laments about suffering, he saw people in the city square lining in a relief office waiting for food donations. The song addresses the historical suffering that the American people were undergoung during the 50s and 60s.
In conclusion, many Americans are of the opinion that the song is an alternative national anthem for their country. Others believe that the song is a response to Irvin Beling’s “God Bless America”. There is some truth in these views; however, the last three stanzas are too radical, which explains the reasons why they were left out during the 1944 recording. This song’s ending is generally left off and does not follow the devoted inclination that numerous individuals can identify with. It ventures to address concerning the countless Americans, which is counterproductive to the many. The song is very patriotic and stimulates strong feelings of love for people living in America. Again, the views and contents presented in the last three stanzas of Guthrie’s song ” “This Landis Your Land” were not relevant and appropriate for the history of America during the recording period.
Blakemore, Erin. “How “This Land Is Your Land” Went From Protest Song To Singalong | JSTOR Daily”. JSTOR Daily, 2017.
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Guthrie, Woody. “This Land Is Your Land” by Woody Guthrie.” Welcome to the Official Woody Guthrie Website!, 1956.
Jackson, Mark A. “Is This Song Your Song Anymore? Revisioning Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land”.” American Music, vol. 20, no. 3, 2002, p. 249.