Bob Dylan’s “Hurricane”: Pathos and Style to Emphasize Connections, Race and Rhythm 

Couldn’t help but make me feel ashamed to live in a land where justice is a game,” are lyrics by Bob Dylan, which express his anger and disappointment in our country during a time of racism. In the 1960’s and 70’s, America was faced with many racial and social issues regarding race and ethnicity in society. Rubin Carter was a victim of the cruelty of mistreatment due to the color of his skin, which influenced Bob Dylan to write the song, “Hurricane,” after Carter.

Bob Dylan’s use of music to make an emphasis on the Carter’s situation arose the question of how does Dylan use the song “Hurricane,” to criticize social issues and influence his listeners? With the use of Pathos and styles of imagery, tone, and repetition, Bob Dylan evokes a strong emotional response, a powerful rhythm and portrays the struggles of racism in his song “Hurricane,” to influence his audience that being mistreated for the color of your skin is unethical.

I will begin my essay by telling you who Bob Dylan is, how got involved and the description of the historical events that took place that caused this controversial case. Second, I will introduce my method of analysis and how I plan to implement it when analyzing my artifact. Third, I will explain how Bob Dylan uses Pathos, the appeal to emotion, to find ways for audiences to connect with Carter on a personal level and imply their own emotions into his situation. Fourth, I will examine his use of the style of imagery to create a picture for his audiences to see when describing the events of the situation.

Get quality help now

Proficient in: America

5 (339)

“ KarrieWrites did such a phenomenal job on this assignment! He completed it prior to its deadline and was thorough and informative. ”

+84 relevant experts are online
Hire writer

Fifth, I will explain the use of tone and repetition of style, which can be heard when hearing the song. Lastly, I will analyze the factors of this song and the ways in which Bob Dylan tries to influence his audiences and if it was effective for his audience.

Bob Dylan was an American singer-songwriter who used his music to influence popular music and culture during times of racial and social issues in America. In October of 1975, his song “Hurricane” was released. This song was a reflection of the time in North America in which racism was one of the many large issues. The song is named after Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, a middleweight, African American boxer who could have been a world champion until the racial tensions personally victimized him. In the night of June 1966, a three-murder shootout had taken place at a New Jersey barroom. Cops arrived on the scene, and were sent after Carter by men in the bar blaming him for the murders he did not commit. Carter had been officially convicted of a “race killing” for the three murders in the New Jersey ballroom. His conviction left him with an unfair triple life sentence as an innocent man.

Eight years after this sentence, Bob Dylan learned of Rubin “Hurricane” Carter from the book “The 16th Round.” The book “The 16th Round,” was an autobiography that explained Carter’s innocence to the crime. After Dylan read the book, he felt the need to do something, which caused him to visit Carter to talk about the false accusations implicated on him because of his skin color. These talks led to the development of ideas and lyrics between the two, which developed into the full released song of, “Hurricane.” The song was created to target audience of that time and audiences of the future. Bob Dylan used many of his songs to create influence and in this song he wanted to influence listeners on racial and social issues. He wanted his audiences to understand the mistreatment, the brutality and unfairness of the Carter’s situation while also addressing the social and racial issues of this event and the era as a whole.

The method of analysis, which I have decided to use, is Neo-Aristotelian. Neo-Aristotelian, named after Aristotle, is a method of rhetorical analysis that was created by Herbert A. Wichlens in 1925, which focused on the ways to analyze an artifact. When analyzing an artifact, the steps in order include evaluating the context, applying the canons and analyzing the effects. Within this method for my essay, I chose to emphasize pathos and style when analyzing the song, “Hurricane.” These canons are important to use for this song because they help provide significance to this influential song, which was written on behalf of a very controversial incident of the 1960’s involving racial discrimination. Pathos is a device of emotional rhetoric that brings audiences in with feelings and reactions to create an emotional connection.

For example, Bob Dylan uses lyrics such as, “an innocent man in a living hell,” to create an emotion of agony in which the audience can create a relationship to the pain he is going through. Style analyzes imagery of the artifact while also providing tone and repetition. Imagery is visual description, which the audience can make from the lyrics. For example, Bob Dylan describes the crime scene with “red lights flashin,” creating a mental image of the crime for the audience. Tone is the quality or strength of the music when it is being heard. In “Hurricane,” Dylan uses various speed and sounds of tone to create importance or a break into the chorus. Lastly, repetition is reoccurrence of a word or an event. Dylan uses repetition to create a pattern of importance with certain lyrics while also creating a chorus.

When creating “Hurricane,” Bob Dylan paid close attention to Pathos, the appeal to emotions, to persuade his audience with the emotion of sadness, grief and even anger. As Aristotle claimed, “there is persuasion through the hearers when they are led to feel emotion by the speech.” In Dylan’s song, he uses the story of his song as a whole to persuade audiences that there are racial and social struggles for those who are colored during this time period, which cause great pain for those individuals. The part of the song, which stands out with the most emotion, would be the ending. At the end of the song, he quotes, “put into a prison cell, but no one time he could-a been the champion of the world.” I believe this line hits his audience hard because it shows how dramatic and real the situation is. It gives off the emotion of heartbreak and tragedy for the fact that, although he is innocent, his life is now ruined because of the prejudice of his color.

In addition, the fact that the white jurors would not believe the truth because he was an African American creates an emotion of rage. I also believe that his line, “champion of the world,” is a large statement emotional appeal repeated throughout the song. This statement is conveying that not only is he an innocent civilian, but he is a huge deal in the sport and popular culture creating a familiarity for his audience. Since he was taken to jail, we will never get to see rise to “number one champion,” which creates the feelings of what if. What if he was not in jail? What if he was the champion of the world? We will never know and that is what creates the emotion of devastation. Other lines of the song also appeal to the emotion of grief, such as “an innocent man living in hell,” or “they turned a man into a mouse.” These lines are all persuasion the create anger because they infer that the white jurors made an untruthful decision that ruined this mans life.

I believe that the appeal to emotion is so important in this song because the audiences are able to step into the shoes of poor Rubin Carter and feel his pain for being a victim of false accusations. Using emotion, Dylan creates a connection between the audience members and Carter that can help persuade the audience that they understand and feel his emotions agony and disappointment. Throughout the song, Dylan uses the style of imagery to create an understanding of the racial issues that happened during this situation and during this time period in America. The title itself creates the images of a fierce and strong hurricane to describe Carter himself. In the song, he uses imagery when describing both the murders and the aftermath. His imagery includes the multiple scenes of the incident in New Jersey, which create a story while also flipping to the issues arose of being an African American in a time of racism.

Dylan begins his song with a vivid image of the scene with “pistol shots [rung] out,” and “a pool of blood,” which creates a scene that infers what the song is going to be about.  He then highlights the lyrics, “here comes the story of the Hurricane, the man the authorities came to blame.” To create a storyline, making Carter the main character in this racial madness that arose from three murders. As the song continues, we see many quotes that also create imagery of the situation that relate to what is happening with Carter but also relating to the general racial issues happening at that time. For example, Dylan quotes “If you’re black you might as well not shown up on the street.” This line is suggesting the image of police brutality in which police were unfair to the African American community, making it a struggle for them to leave their homes .

In another quote, “all of Rubin’s cards were marked in advanced, the trial was a pig circus, and he never had a chance.” These lyrics use imagery of a pig circus in comparison to the trial because it is complete madness. This also goes to show that just because of Carter’s race, the “all-white jury” already had their mind made up of no matter what the evidence, he would be guilty. At the end of the song he states, “couldn’t help but make me feel ashamed to live in a land where justice is a game,” making the conclusion that he is so disappointed that Americans do not recognize the severity of the way they mistreat people of color. This gives his audience an image of him shaking his head while also creating a sense of influence for his fans. Lastly, he uses the imagery of the rich men drinking martinis while Rubin sits in a ten-foot cell to compare the two lives that resulted from unfair sentencing. This creates a side-by-side image that depicts the differences between the power of either races during this trial and the era.

Other styles we see in the song are tone and repetition. The tone of the song is an aggressive and strong, while also being fast paced which gives the song a sense of strength. Using the powerful tone really creates the feeling that it is a protest song, which is the purpose of the piece. The fast pace of the song is really highlighted when he talks about the signature or key parts of the song that are statements for the song. For example, the song really speeds up and changes tone at lines such as, “when a cop pulled him over to the side of the road.” This change in tone creates a rhythm in the song but also infers a marking point of importance in the story that leads to the next significant point. This relates to another form of style called repetition. Repetition is seen at the fourth or fifth line of each verse when the tone of the song is increased and strengthen causing from the repeating of certain musical patterns created by Bob Dylan for a sound aesthetic.

When it comes the phrases of repetition, we see a few lines of the lyrics reoccurring in different verses in the song, such as “here comes the story of the hurricane,” and “champion of the world.” These words are repeated to create an attitude of which Carter is famous giving him a status of fame or importance to the public eye and creating nobility over a regular colored civilian. The phrases are also repeated because it divides the start and end of various events that take place in the song, as well as creating a beginning and ending of multiple choruses. In my opinion, I believe that Bob Dylan’s song was effective as well as ineffective for many specific reasons.

I believe that his song was effective because he was able to use the appeal emotion, imagery, tone and repetition to create a feeling while also depicting of the struggles that occurred during the incident and after the conviction of murder for Carter.  In relation, his song did allow for his audiences to see the truth to the case and a new viewpoint of the situation from the victim’s side. I believe this song is the most effective because of the way Dylan used the song to spread the word about the injustice of the conviction and corruption of this nation. During his tour, it is said that when he played this song he told the story of Carter and communicated to his fans the multiple ways Carter was mistreated.

In contrast, the song was ineffective because it was quickly taken off the radio to avoid lawsuits, creating a smaller audience to hear the song. Also in relation, the song was ineffective because although it had the story and the appeal to emotion, there was no action plan to how Dylan’s audiences could make an effort to change these social issues. In addition, the audience is unsure to what Bob Dylan’s goal was for him, Carter or society when the song when he released. Most important, the song was ineffective because it did not release Carter from prison. Although eight years after the song he was release, the song was not the reason to why he was released. The song may have played an influence to some audiences, but “Hurricane” was not the reason for why he was eventually granted his freedom. “Hurricane,” by Bob Dylan was a song of great emotion that created a powerful storyline though imagery while also developing a style of tone that strengthened this protest song.

After listening and analyzing the song, I found that the audiences are more influenced when they can emotionally and visually connect with a storyline. This is because when audiences allow themselves to be vulnerable and analyze the song from the perspective like Carter’s, it provides them with a perspective, which they can connect with and compare their decisions if they were in that situation. This analysis is important because it shows how artifact’s, like this song, can create a feeling that can influence and change the way they think about certain things or situations. Overall, “Hurricane,” by Bob Dylan has lots of emotional connections along with styles that influence audiences while also creating patterns, which create a powerful song.

Cite this page

Bob Dylan’s “Hurricane”: Pathos and Style to Emphasize Connections, Race and Rhythm . (2021, Dec 26). Retrieved from

Let’s chat?  We're online 24/7