"The Red Wheelbarrow" by William Carlos Williams (very short poem)
Choose one of the poems you have read by Williams, Cummings, or Eliot and apply one of the critical approaches from Section III of the American Literature Study Guide (biographical approach, psychological approach, historical approach, etc.). This experimental exercise demonstrates the process of interpretation and reveals how differently a poem can be read, heard, and understood.
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"The Red Wheelbarrow" by William Carlos Williams
Applying the psychological approach to interpreting the poem “The Red Wheelbarrow” by American writer William Carlos Williams, it is apparent that the subtext of the poem is what gives it its power. The clear words on the page are a doorway to deeper thought – the truth of the poem beneath these evident words.
However, some readers may discern little from this sixteen word poem. To some, or even many, it may represent a simple statement of a condition on a farm at a distinct point in time. The poem is direct and starkly beautiful if read this way, and it does convey a point and place in time with an easily identified object, the elements, and living creatures.
Nevertheless, many other readers may go beyond the obvious and try to extract a deeper meaning from the images conveyed by Williams in this poem. This is where the psychological approach is used. This approach deals with the inner thoughts of the reader – how he or she responds to the poem emotionally, mentally, even spiritually.
Therefore, the psychological approach necessitates breaking down the poem and questioning its parts. The answers one comes up with reflect their views, biases, beliefs, fears, and more. The psychological approach is a personal study of the poem and how the meaning of the poem relates to one’s own life.
Questions that can be asked, using the psychological approach, include:
1. Why does so much depend upon a red wheelbarrow? Why did Williams choose a wheelbarrow and not, say, a tractor?
2. What is the significance of the color red in this poem? Would another color choice have affected the power of this simple poem?
3. What does the rain water evoke? Is this water symbolic of something else – something spiritual?
4. Why are chickens mentioned in the poem? How would the use of a different animal affect the power of this poem?
5. How does the white of the chickens contrast with the red of the wheelbarrow? What thoughts does this contrast produce?
Consequently, the psychological approach to studying a poem causes one to delve into their belief system and relate the poem to their view of life. The psychological approach ponders inferred themes and ideas not blatantly revealed by the words on the page.
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