The song seems to present an ambivalent picture of God. The indications that it is God the narrator has in mind are numerous. In the first verse the woman is self-sufficient – ‘She’s got everything she needs’ – just as God traditionally is held to be. She’s also a creator – a creative, or forward-looking, artist (‘She don’t look back’). Furthermore, since she ‘can take the dark out of the night-time/ And paint the daytime black’, she seems to be the creator of the universe, making the world revolve – and so continually turn from night to day and back to night again.
A further indication of divinity is her never stumbling because ‘She’s got no place to fall’. There are no human beings of whom that is true, but this would be true for a being outside of time and space. The concept of stumbling simply would not apply. It’s also the case that her quality of being ‘nobody’s child’ is an extra-human quality. ‘Law’ – printed with a capital ‘L’ in the official version of the lyrics – in ‘The Law can’t touch her’ – would seem to refer to the Law of Moses. This was given for human beings, the Israelites, to follow, but presumably would not represent a restriction on God who accordingly would remain untouched by it. Finally, bowing down to her on Sunday would seem to be behaviour appropriate if the woman is a representation of God.
It’s not at all clear that the picture we’re getting is entirely of the traditional Christian God, however. This God seems more detached. She seems no more associated with good than with evil, as is suggested by her dealing equally with night and day in the opening verse, and by her not needing the Law. And although references to Sunday and Christmas might suggest the traditional God, Halloween is associated with witches and evil spirits.
An ambivalent nature is also implied in that she ‘wears an Egyptian ring’. This seems to associate her with the Egyptian enemies of the Israelites, rather than the Israelites God is normally credited with saving. The ring’s sparkling before she speaks would further suggest that she is on the side of the Israelites’ oppressors, as if her Egyptian loyalties were colouring her pronouncements. It’s perhaps because of this leaning towards the enemies of the Israelites that she’s a ‘hypnotist collector’ – she has to hypnotise Israelites into following her. (The person addressed as ‘you’ in ‘you are a walking antique’ is perhaps described as an ‘antique’ to imply that to follow her now is to behave like Israelites in antiquity – and therefore inappropriately.)
It seems significant that the song is written in each of the first, second and third persons. ‘She’ is very prominent. The title, however, uses the first person ‘me’ in order to claim that the narrator possesses the woman – ‘She belongs to me‘. And there is the second person ‘you’:
‘You will start out standing
Proud to steal her anything she sees’.
This seems to refer to someone else, maybe the listener, who it seems is possessed by the woman. ‘Me’ and ‘you’, then, seem to refer to different people. The tone of ‘You will start out standing’ seems to imply something like ‘You will start out standing just as I did’.
It might seem that the narrator could know how the listener will behave only from personal experience of his own prior behaviour – starting out standing. However, there is another alternative. This is that the narrator and the person addressed are one and the same. When he says ‘You’, the narrator is not so much talking to another person, but himself when going over in his mind what is going to happen. He’s telling himself he’ll be reduced from standing to kneeling.
This suggests a further possibility – that the narrator and the person he addresses are not just one and the same person, but are also the woman. This is indicated by the use of the future tense in the second verse – ‘You will start out…’ and You will wind up…’. Like the woman, who ‘don’t look back’, the narrator/addressee also focuses on the future rather than the past. Furthermore the unity of the three is indicated in the otherwise ungrammatical form of the phrase ‘she don’t look back’. If ‘she’ is to be read as ‘they’ because what applies to her applies to all three, the phrase ceases to be ungrammatical; ‘… she don’t look back’ becomes ‘… they don’t look back’. That the woman ‘never stumbles’ and the listener is a walking antique, also suggests their mutual identity. And again, if the narrator is taken as Dylan himself , then the narrator might be identified with her in being a forward looking ‘artist’, just as she is.
Despite this identity, the listener is presented as someone capable of making moral progress, whereas the woman is not subject to any such progression. The listener is initially presented as morally negative – a thief and participant in seedy, voyeuristic behaviour – but ends up reverentially ‘bowing down’. But there’s no hint that the woman will try to prevent the listener stealing for her. She just remains aloof. For her, human distinctions between good and evil just don’t apply.
The song, then, seems to describe a God in human terms (she’s female, an artist, a wearer of jewellery, a collector, a recipient of gifts), and identifies her with human beings struggling to progress morally. At the same time, seen just as God, she is detached, and thus beyond characterisation in human terms, including moral terms.
(Interestingly relevant quote: ‘Well, first of all, God is a woman, we all know that. Well, you take it from there.’ Dylan, Austin Press Conference 1965.)