- Dramatic Situation
John Lennon’s Imagine dramatizes the conflict between what he had perceived as a threatening world with what he had conceived as an ideal one. Isolating both heaven and earth which seemed to him as sources of fear and disillusionment; Lennon invoked people to imagine a world without them; without countries that only serve as instruments to divide people bound by race, and culture. He proposed to get rid of all religions which trigger conflicts in beliefs leading to religious wars; and finally, possessions that show the way to greed and hunger.
Lennon was addressing the people of his time who have lived in the heyday of the Vietnam War; in an era when conflicts between Capitalist Nations and Communist Countries were escalating to a possible nuclear war; where political figures like the Kennedys, Martin Luther King Jr., among others were being assassinated. It was also a period when the world was transitioning from conservatism to the radicalism of the 1960s – the age of hippies and the emerging pop culture. Moreover, further advancement in modern technology was paving the way to a revolution in music; the emergence of the feminist movement, and the socialist faction sweeping across the Western World.
John Lennon himself had been undergoing a personal crisis of his own; The Beatles had just broken up. And for a man who had been accustomed to much public adulation, the frustration such changes brought had proved overwhelming that he had found it necessary to undergo primal therapy. And so in 1971, within such framework of broad changes happening within and without him, Lennon had felt a renewed confidence of a relatively matured and goal focused individual. Armed with his music, he had confronted the world with his own version of radicalism – Imagine – a people who live just for today; a people who live in peace; in the spirit of sharing and brotherhood. And finally, realizing the eccentricity of his viewpoint, John rallied the people that although his message seemed odd, or one of the dreamer’s type, he ‘is not the only one’. There were many, he thought, who were willing to join to make the vision come true.
The images John Lennon had tried to portray in his poem was rather an abstract one; a product of imagination and therefore still remains a part of the conflict scenario. His call to imagine a world without heaven and hell only drives one to see heaven and hell in his/her imagination. Even his vision of the absence of killing and dying for one’s country; or the negation of greed and hunger were a push towards a canvas of a bloody war, and poverty. Peace, although a deviation from the social ills just mentioned, is as figurative as the non-existence of religion, or elimination of countries. It could have helped to have used concrete words that depict exactly a portrait of peace, i.e., people of different cultures joining hands, working together, recreating the environment, and feeding and healing the sick.
The main thesis of Lennon’s poem revolves around the idea of a peaceful world where there is sharing and brotherhood among all the peoples without the limitation of race, nationality, and religious beliefs. This dream state can only be achieved if the world can do away with established institutions such as religion, economic, and socio-political boundaries. Yet on an equally important concern is freedom. Lennon wanted to do away with social structures and religious teachings on the perception that the same tend to suppress liberty, free choice and self-determination.
On a deeper analysis, Lennon’s choice of certain words may imply some meaning which he hoped to convey to a critical audience. His call to imagine a world with no heaven might have actually been a desire to free society from false hopes; that one day all human problems would end when everyone goes up to heaven upon his or her death as a reward for good deeds and sacrifices. On a quite similar note, hell instills fear among men and women that obstruct their freedom of choice. Both heaven and hell are future destinations which serve as mechanisms of control over the past, present, and future generations. And so, a call to get rid of such ‘useless’ concepts was meant to free the world from unnecessary worries and anxieties.
Countries might have been viewed as alienating people bound by cultural differences, while allegiance to a single country tends to be divisive. In the same token, possessions which refer to private ownership were likely to promote greed and tend to cause widespread hunger. Religion, on the other hand, was seen as instrument that encourages submission and surrender of one’s fate to destiny; a pie in the sky or castles in the air, so to speak.
Lennon was reported to have commented that his song was a summary of the Communist Manifesto. Indeed, the foregoing analysis depicted just that. Imagine is counterculture and contains subversive elements that challenges existing beliefs, traditions, social and moral standards that were perceived by Lennon as oppressive. Furthermore, it is an invitation for people to make a stand; a call for mass action and mobilization.
Indeed, a literary work of such nature can be a powerful medium to advance a worthy cause. However, one needs to see beyond the work; beyond the message; and to scrutinize the character behind the art.
John Lennon was raised in a middle class family with an absentee father. His mother who died in a car accident was also not known to have spent much time with little John. He was left under the care of his aunt Mimi who had expressed misgivings about his playing in a band. And so, he had gone about his daily affairs with such emotional baggage that had manifested on the way he had related to the world. Lennon had been widely known for his offensive remarks and rude behavior; insulting the queen herself, urinating in front of nuns, and once claimed that “The Beatles are bigger than Jesus Christ.” Additionally, together with his wife Yoko Ono, Lennon posed nude during one media conference. All these including his drug conviction both in London and the United States, Lennon had become a subject of public scrutiny. In 1974, he had to seek a Royal Pardon in connection with his drug case just so to enable him to travel to and from the U.S.
True to his personality of being eccentric almost to the point of being antisocial, John Lennon wrote Imagine. With the character now in full view, one can’t help but question the motive behind such work. Is it a mere expression of protest against an oppressive society? Or is it an outburst of unresolved intra-personal conflicts? Does the poem manifest a genuine concern for people and the world? Or does it signify a personal hatred against established institutions which Lennon found repulsive from the start beginning with his family?
Finally, had his lyrics been just lyrics, it would have little chance passing literary standards. Though, free verse, the poem contains very few elements of rhyme much less meter, and rhythm. Thank God for the melody, it caught the public ear.
- Anthony DeCurtis. John Lennon, THE OFFICIAL SITE. December 3, 2008. http://johnlennon.com/html/biography.aspx.
- John Lennon – Rock Musician/Song Writer. December 3, 2008. http://www.answers.com/topic/john-lennon
- Timeline of the Twentieth Century: 1960-1969. About.com December 3, 2008. http://history1900s.about.com/library/time/bltime1960.htm