Tuna Fishing with the Walrus

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Tuna Fishing with the Walrus
The surrealist movement began in the 1920s, and many of its artists continued to do work well into the sixties and seventies. The most famous of these surrealists was Salvador Dali. In 1967, Dali painted what was regarded as one of his last masterpieces entitled Tuna Fishing. In the same year, the song “I am the Walrus” was written by the Beatles as a response to a fan letter they recieved. At this time in American history there existed a considerable resentment towards those in governmental power. In fact, the song and painting were released mere months before the protests of 1968 began, and at the height of the Civil Rights movement. People across the United States protested the war, as well as the lack of basic rights for many men and women. Although “I am the Walrus” was written in order to be confusing and indecipherable, it reflects the creation of an abstract reality, much like the Dali painting, Tuna Fishing, exposing the truths of the time period, and urging its audience to challenge what they are being handed. It should be noted that I will only be analyzing the first two verses of the song.

John Lennon, who wrote the song, intended it to be a protest against the analysis of the lyrics of his music. He was quoted with saying in regards to the lyrics of “I am the Walrus” “Let the fuckers work that one out”. Lennon wanted to ridicule those who regarded his lyrics as worthy of analysis. However, what Lennon failed to realize, though, is that by making his lyrics abstract, he was giving his audience even more room to analyze his work. Similarly, the surrealist movement was about making one’s own reality, not only in the literal sense, like an artist painting things that are not physically possible, but also giving the audience a chance to pull their own reality, hence “sur-reality”, from a piece of art. “I am the Walrus” was intended to be a song thats lyrics are made of strange phrases that are meant to confuse. In the end, though, the song becomes a piece that can be easily compared to the works of Dali, because although they are abstract, the lyrics can still be seen as a reflection of the time period.

The introduction of the song is an instrumental, it sounds psychedelic, with heavy strings with a lazy guitar rhythm that goes from the foreground to the background. The first line of the song is “I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together”. The line sounds like a jumbled mess upon first hearing it, but when one takes the lyric in context of history at this period in time, it seems like a unifier. “I am the Walrus” was written in the fall of 1967, during the Cold War, in the period following the Korean War and ushering in the Vietnam War. “I am he” is an interesting metaphor, because it instantly connects one person with another by making them the same thing. For example, one can say that they are a student, and according to the lyrics they are also the milkman, the soldier, and the sniper in the trees, aiming at the soldier. Lennon’s lyrics fit the times, when the world is seeing a lot of war, but also organized movements of people.

The Dali painting also reflects the violence happening in the world as well. In the painting Tuna Fishing, which was completed in 1967, several fishermen are depicted in a fantastical battle against fish. The entire painting looks as if it is moving, depicting the fishing like a battle between land and sea. At the center of the painting there is a man, holding a golden dagger, which is emitting light from it, the man is plunging the dagger into a fish which the man has held down with one arm, which reminds one of the next line in the Beatles song “See how they run like pigs from a gun”. Lennon chose to compare people, or those in the previous line with pigs running from a fire arm. Pigs in this line seem to be used to illustrate either death, or impending death, due to the fact that they’re running from a gun, and pigs are animals...
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