The Autobiography of William Carlos Williams Critical Context - Essay

William Carlos Williams

Critical Context

Writing in a literary tradition greatly influenced by Ralph Waldo Emerson and Walt Whitman, twentieth century American writers were generally concerned with the task of rejuvenating their cultural heritage. Starting with the Imagist movement at the turn of the century, continuous efforts had been made to discover modern modes of literary expression for twentieth century America. In prose and verse alike, writers experimented with new rhythms, common speech, and the fragmentary mode of presentation, all of which eventually became the salient features of modernist writing. As one of the leading figures advocating the cause of modern American literature, Williams participated in various literary events and movements. His autobiography thus bears his personal witness to the literary activities as well as the intellectual milieu of his time.

Although a major modernist writer, Williams began his literary career under the spell of Romantic poetry. The influence that European Romanticism had on him, however, was short-lived. He soon renounced his Romantic model, John Keats, and began his lifelong search for modern modes of expression. In his continuous experimentation with new literary styles, Williams, like Whitman, advocated the use of immediate experience and American scenes. After World War II Williams continued to promote modernist writing, emerging as one of the most influential figures in the fostering of the younger generation of American poets. As a summary of his literary career, the autobiography thus greatly contributes to the understanding of the significance of his literary accomplishments as well as his own intellectual development.