William Carlos Williams Analysis

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

What neglected virtues does William Carlos Williams encourage in “Tract”?

What is the explanation of the fascination felt by so many readers of Williams’s very short poem “The Red Wheelbarrow”?

Does Paterson succeed as an American equivalent of T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land (1922)?

Consider Williams as a poet of understatement.

Williams brought the experiences of a practicing physician to many of his short stories. Identify several of these stories.

What “essential qualities of the American character” are revealed in In the American Grain?

William Carlos Williams Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Best known as a poet, William Carlos Williams nevertheless wrote in a variety of literary forms (some of them defying categorization) including poetry, novels, short stories, prose poetry, essays, autobiography, and plays. Paterson, his extended poem published in four separate volumes (1946-1951), with a fifth volume serving as a commentary (1958), is his most famous and enduring work.

William Carlos Williams Achievements

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

William Carlos Williams received numerous awards, including the Dial Award in 1926, the National Book Award in 1950, the Bollingen Award in 1953, and, posthumously, the Pulitzer Prize in poetry in 1963.

William Carlos Williams Other literary forms

(Poets and Poetry in America)

William Carlos Williams is best known for his poetry, but he did not limit himself to that form. His short-story collections include The Knife of the Times, and Other Stories (1932), Life Along the Passaic River (1938), Make Light of It: Collected Stories (1950), and The Farmers’ Daughters: The Collected Stories of William Carlos Williams (1961). Among his novels are The Great American Novel (1923), A Voyage to Pagany (1928), and the Stecher trilogy, composed of White Mule (1937), In the Money (1940), and The Build-Up (1952), and his best-known collection of plays is Many Loves, and Other Plays (1961). He also wrote criticism and an autobiography. His essay collections include In the American Grain (1925) and Selected Essays of William Carlos Williams (1954). In addition, he and his mother published two translations, Last Nights of Paris (1929) by Philippe Soupault and A Dog and the Fever (1954) by Francisco Gómez de Quevedo y Villegas.

William Carlos Williams Achievements

(Poets and Poetry in America)

William Carlos Williams’s recognition was late in coming, although he received the Dial Award for Services to American Literature in 1926 for the “Paterson” poem and the Guarantor’s Prize from Poetry in 1931; Louis Zukofsky’s Objectivist issue of Poetry in 1931 featured Williams. The critics, other poets and writers, as well as the public, however, largely ignored his poetry until 1946, when Paterson, book 1 appeared. From that time on, his recognition increased steadily. He was made a fellow of the Library of Congress, 1948-1949, and appointed consultant in poetry (poet laureate) to the Library of Congress in 1952, but he never served because of political opposition to his alleged left-wing principles. In 1948, he received the Russell Loines Award for Paterson, book 2, and, in 1950, the National Book Award for Selected Poems and Paterson, book 3; in 1953, he shared with Archibald MacLeish the Bollingen Prize for excellence in contemporary verse. He received the Levinson Prize from Poetry magazine in 1954 and the Academy of American Poets Fellowship in 1956. Finally, in May, 1963, he was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Pictures from Brueghel and the Gold Medal for poetry from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

William Carlos Williams Bibliography

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Axelrod, Steven Gould, and Helen Deese, eds. Critical Essays on William Carlos Williams. New York: G. K. Hall, 1995. A solid collection of essays.

Beck, John. Writing the Radical Center: William Carlos Williams, John Dewey, and American Cultural Politics. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2001. Analyzes Williams’s political convictions as reflected in his writings, and compares them with those of philosopher John Dewey.

Bremen, Brian A. William Carlos Williams and the Diagnostics of Culture. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993. An examination of the development of Williams’s poetry, focused on his fascination with the effects of poetry and prose, and his friendship with Kenneth Burke. Using Burke’s and Williams’s theoretical writings and correspondence, and the works of contemporary cultural critics, Bremen looks at how the methodological empiricism in Williams’s poetic strategy is tied to his medical practice.

Coles, Robert. William Carlos Williams: The Knack of Survival in America. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1975. This examination of Williams’s work aims at an understanding of Williams as a poet and writer who was fascinated with the meaning and values of America. Coles offers a study of both poems and stories. Includes a bibliography and an index.

Dietrich, R. F. “Connotations of Rape in ‘The Use of Force.’” Studies in Short Fiction 3 (Summer, 1966): 446-450. Argues that the language of the story suggests a sexual encounter: The wooden spatula is a phallic symbol; the girl’s bleeding is a violation; the idea of its being a pleasure to attack her suggests rape. Contends the sexual connotations suggest the savagery of human nature that lies close to the surface.

Fisher-Wirth, Ann W. William Carlos Williams and Autobiography: The Woods of His Own Nature. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1989. Considers the autobiographical aspects of certain works by Williams. Adds new insight into Williams’s conception of the self and its relationship to the world. Supplemented by thorough notes and an index.

Gish, Robert. William Carlos Williams: A Study of the Short Fiction. Boston: Twayne, 1989. A very fine single-volume study of Williams’s substantial contributions to the short story and the essay.


(The entire section is 1041 words.)