Analysis Taken Too Far


I have to admit, reading an application of literary theory to something like a pop song gives me the giggles. Yeah, I’m a dork–this is a shock? So when I saw the title Perspectives on Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer”, I was hooked. But I think their feminist reading needs a little work.

Mlawski’s feminist reading of the work goes like this:

Interesting to look at is the construction of gender in “Living on a Prayer.” Tommy has a typically “male” job as a dock worker; Gina has a typically “female” job as a waitress. When Tommy loses his income due to union troubles, he immediately feels emasculated and overcompensates by going into Protective Cave Man mode. He hocks his six-string—which, incidentally, he didn’t use to make pansy “art”; he rather “made it talk” “tough” (so tough). Then, he spends the rest of the song trying to convince his wife not to leave, because, without a wife to provide for (even if he can’t actually provide), he is not a real man. The question is never asked, though: why does Gina dream of running away? Is it only the lack of money? Or is it something more? Has Tommy been lashing out at her, beating her? Does he come home and make her talk, like he used to do with his six-string? We don’t know, because the male narrator does not tell us.

I believe Mlawski misses an important part of the dynamic in the relationship between Gina and Tommy by glossing over the lines “Gina works the diner all day. / Working for her man, she brings home her pay / For love – for love.” It seems to me that “works the diner” could easily be a euphemism for street-level prostitution, and that she “brings home her pay” for the same kind of abusive love that a pimp provides.

Of course, the chances that Jon Bon Jovi took any of these readings into consideration when penning this song are about as good as the chances that Bon Jovi is actually French for “good Jovi,” but it is fun to search for deeper meanings in what are otherwise fairly vapid song lyrics.

Brian Spears is Senior Poetry Editor of The Rumpus and the author of A Witness in Exile (Louisiana Literature Press, 2011). His poem “Upon Reading That Andromeda Will One Day Devour Triangulum and Come For Us Next” was featured in Season 9 of Motion Poems. More from this author →