In Search for the True Meaning of This Land Is Your Land: What the Present-Day Americans Fail to Understand Essay
Updated: Aug 26th, 2019
As inspiring and honest as they were, the songs that Guthrie sang were a product of its era. This Land Is Your Land appealed to the American citizens that needed cooperation in order to stay calm and united in the heat of the fight.
Since modern U.S. citizens are unable to re-live the experience of the infamous Dust Bowl and the Great Depression, they cannot possibly embrace the ideas of loss and despair communicated in such lines as “A sign was painted said: Private Property/But on the back side it didn’t say nothing” (Guthrie para. 4).
When it comes to thinking what exactly modern American people fail to understand in Guthrie’s song, the weirdest thing is that Woody is much more famous now than he used to be in the era of the Great Depression, yet his present-day fans cannot quite put their finger on why exactly the song has gained such recognition and what makes it stand out of the range of songs concerning similar issues.
The fact that Woody was the first to write a song about the desperate state of the people trapped in the Great Depression does not seem to be the determinant in Guthrie’s case – a number of songs written to mark a particular historic event vanished without a trace, while their descendants appeared to be much more successful. Perhaps, there is more to the lyrics of the song than meets the eye.
One of the element that sets the song apart from not only the rest of Woody’s songs but also from the rest of the songs regarding the phenomenon of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, is its tendency to embrace the life of the entire United States; as if willing to take a family picture to cement the phenomenon of the Great Depression in people’s minds, Woody sang, “From California to the New York Island,/from the red wood forest to the Gulf Stream waters,/This land was made for you and me” (Guthrie para. 1).
The space that Woody embraces in his song gives a very tempting opportunity to read numerous innuendoes into the given excerpt, starting from the idea of togetherness, up to Woody’s concept of Communism as the principle of sharing at the time of nationwide trouble. In fact, a number of present-day critics interpret the given line as Guthrie’s call for people to join the ranks of Communists in order to fight the Great Depression.
The given interpretation is quite common for the present-day critics of Guthrie’s works; moreover, the discussion of the Socialist implications in the song often escalates to voicing the suspicions about Guthrie trying to spread Communist propaganda in the USA.
Considering This Land Is Your Land a tribute to the Communist ideas, however, would be quite a stretch. Instead, it would be more reasonable to view the song through the lens of a typical dweller of American South, who lost all possessions and was in desperate need for help. The people who were at the brink of going insane because of losing everything that they had did not need another blues song.
Instead, they wanted to hear about the Promised Land, where they could find a shelter from all their troubles – the place where the mere concept of property could be disregarded for the sake of feeling secure once again: “And on the sig it said ‘No Trespassing’,/But on the other side it didn’t say nothing” (Guthrie para. 5).
Therefore, the problem with understanding the meaning of Guthrie’s song is not that the people of the USA of the XXI century have no idea about the Great depression, but that people are trying to read into Guthrie’s song something that was never meant to be there.
“This land was made for you and me” is not a call for people accepting the Communist ideas readily – it is a reproach to the state authorities, which led the U.S. to the state of the Great Depression, throwing it into the Dust Bowl and leaving millions of people without anything to eat, anywhere to sleep and anyone to ask for help: “As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking,/Is this land made for you and me?” (Guthrie para. 6).
The song is a call for freedom and happiness, which many people can relate to today, yet, weirdly enough, link to the Communist ideas.
Although the song might seem unnecessarily upbeat for the present-day American people to represent such a dark and morbid page in the history of the USAA as the great depression, one must admit that the merits of the song, as well as the elements of originality in it, clearly shine through. More to the point, the song serves as a reminder of the lessons learned in the course of the state history.
Unless people remember the lessons that history has taught them, they are doomed to repeating the same mistakes again and again, which means that modern U.S. citizens should, probably, look into Woody Guthrie’s This Land Is Your Land.
Guthrie, Woody (Singer and songwriter). This Land Is Your Land. 1940. Web.
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