How reliable is source 5 as a representation of the death of Hattie Carroll?

‘The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll’, the song by Bob Dylan is both reliable and unreliable in many ways as a representation of her death.

During the Black Civil Rights Movement of the time, Dylan was a popular artist and felt strongly about this specific cause. Through his lyrics he spoke out for the oppressed minority. His songs however, did not represent the views of all the black people at the time. Through his lyrics he expressed only his point of view. Therefore, it must be taken into account that there may be bias of some form in some of his works.

We must take into account that it is more than likely that Dylan was not at the actual murder scene and therefore his song is a secondary source. We also are not totally sure if Dylan was genuinely concerned about the welfare of the oppressed, or, he was using the situation to boost his own career. Ultimately, these together could be factors for why Dylan wrote and performed “finger-pointing songs.”

I would say that the majority of the motives in his work are honourable but others may think differently. Joan Baez, a folk singer and a Civil Rights activist and, Dylan’s girlfriend at the time said of him; “he never went to marches. One of the ironic things was, 20 years after the fact, people at marches saying, “Is Bob coming? We heard Bob’s coming.” He never went. It wasn’t his life and there was no reason he should really because he didn’t believe in all that politics stuff.”

The contents of the song tell us some of the basic facts about the incident. We know Hattie was murdered by Zanzinger who got a very lenient sentence. Gaps however exist in our knowledge due to the fact that source 5 contains only part of the actual song. Therefore we do not see the full picture surrounding what happened and what actually happened.

Dylan puts his lyrics across with a sarcasm and bitterness. This is because Carroll was murdered due to racial discrimination. We are not sure if Dylan was present at the trial and because of this we cannot trust what he is suggesting fully but we can take it for granted that what he is saying is at least partly true.

I feel that Dylan’s intended audience was universal. He aimed to inform people of the wrong in society and he gave the black Americans hope in their campaign for justice. I can only presume that Dylan wrote this song to make society aware of what was happening to the black people. I also think that the fact that Dylan would gain publicity for his controversy and therefore this may have been a reason for him writing and performing “finger-pointing songs.”

In source 5 we do not gain any insight into Zanzinger’s motives for murdering Carroll. Zanzinger’s story is not known and because each story has two sides we cannot view the ‘bigger picture.’

This source is partly reliable. We know that Dylan had a good reputation as a truthful, genuine artist but it must be acknowledged that the limitations to the song as a representation of the death of Hattie Carroll given the language, tone, motives and the missing part of the source.

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