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Analysis of “Hurt” by Nine Inch Nails

This song was written by Nine Inch Nails and released in the album “The Downward Spiral” in 1994. It is composed of 5 stanzas and 36 lines; there are from 4 to 8 lines in each stanza. There are two evident choruses, formed of 8 lines whose length is quite regular especially in the final stanza.

The most important theme of this song is the disgregation of the author’s moral certainties, the title (Hurt) gives a key to the reader to understand the contents: it seems that the only feeling the author can feel is sorrow, he is so grief-stricken he can have no more feelings. Probably this costant pain was caused by the failure of his dreams; the contrast between the desire to make his dreams come true and the following disappoinment leads him to madness and despair.

From a linguistic point of view the syntax is quite linear and plain, so it is paratactic. There’s a middle stylistic register, the periods are short and simple so that the rhythm is rapid and pressing. There isn’t an evident rhyme scheme: there’s mainly a constant use of rhyming couplets but it is often interrupted by assonances just like between the words “feel” and “real”. In the first stanza there’s an alliteration of thumping and nasal consonants and open vowels (à/è) which have a clear and voiced timbre, the choruses are an exception because there are mostly closed vowels which have a deep and hollow sound (é/o/u). There aren’t run on lines apart from the first stanza in which there’s a run on line between the first and the second line; there are lots of parallelisms, grammatical elements follow one another symmetrically.

In the first stanza, the fourth line regains the central theme; the only thing that exists is pain. This song has a vivid, descriptive language, the central idea of moral ache is expressed by the sentence “the needle tears a hole”, moral pain is so intense that it becomes physical pain. In the second stanza there’s an anaphora, the words “I will” are repeated at the beginning of each line; there’s an epanalepsis between lines 14-17, in which the word “dirt” is repeated after a short interval. Lines 14, 17, 18, are metaphorical circomlocutions and through them the author admits his own immorality, and just the recognition of his own immorality, this self-contempt, emphasizes his disdain for the immoral reality he has to face. In line 12 there’s a chiasmus, the two interior elements and the two exterior elements match at grammatical level. In line 10 there’s an antithesis, he introduces the word “sweetest”, whereas the previous stanza is based on sadness and unhappiness. In this line there’s also an anastrophe, the author directly addresses the reader. In the last stanza there’s an homeoteleuton, because “away” and “way” end with the same letters. In this stanza there are mainly conditional verbs which emphasize that he gives up and the only solution he sees is an impossible and utopian reality that will never come. This is a song which clearly expresses the moral decadence of the author: he brutally and drastically realizes the failure of his expectations.

Nine Inch Nails, Hurt

I hurt myself today
To see if I still feel
I focus on the pain
The only thing that’s real
The needle tears a hole
The old familiar sting
Try to kill it all away
But I remember everything

What have I become?
My sweetest friend
Everyone I know
Goes away in the end
You could have it all
My empire of dirt
I will let you down
I will make you hurt

I wear this crown of shit
Upon my liar’s chair
Full of broken thoughts
I cannot repair
Beneath the stains of time
The feelings disappear
You are someone else
I am still right here

What have I become?
My sweetest friend
Everyone I know
Goes away in the end

You could have it all
My empire of dirt
I will let you down
I will make you hurt
If I could start again
A million miles away
I would keep myself
I would find a way

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