Themes

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Last Updated on August 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 344

The Deceptive Simplicity of Everyday Objects

Objects that may appear relatively insignificant can actually turn out to be quite meaningful and important upon reflection. The average reader may read this deceptively simple poem and fail to understand or agree with the speaker's claim that a great deal depends upon the objects described by its central image. We have a red wheelbarrow, the rainwater that makes the wheelbarrow slick and shiny, and the white chickens nearby. However, upon reflection (prompted by William's attentive treatment of these everyday objects), the reader is urged to reconsider the importance of objects that are generally considered as commonplace and insignificant.

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The Power of Images

A fresh image can be as evocative as a discussion of abstract ideas—perhaps even more so. Williams could, after all, describe outright the idea that objects which appear to be relatively insignificant often turn out to be quite important, but that would be less arresting, perhaps, than describing the image as he does and allowing the reader to come to conclusions about what the speaker means and what the objects connote. By presenting a fresh image, one that is full of bright colors and interesting textures, Williams coaxes the reader to interrogate these images and arrive at numerous possible conclusions.

The Importance of Attention

Life often depends on objects that are simple or common. We can become so busy with all of the pressing concerns in life that seem to demand our attention that we can forget the little things upon which we rely: the simple tools we use to do our jobs, the water that our bodies need, and the animals that surround us.

The poem points out an inherent irony: it is the things that we use most often—those objects that are as much a part of our daily life as breathing or walking—that become invisible to us. This poem compels us to consider these simple things that we often forget about and urges us to remember that they are as important as the big events and ideas that often capture our attention.

Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 455

What “depends upon” a red wheelbarrow, white chickens, and rain? The reader is aware of the usefulness—in the case of rain, the necessity—of these things in the external world. The things referred to in the poem are also particular instances of types and classes of things—the wheelbarrow being a machine, for example, on which life also depends. Furthermore, sensations, feelings, emotions, thoughts, and ideas depend on such things. As the poet expresses it in his poem “A Sort of a Song,” “No ideas/ but in things.” The faculty of the mind that has ideas is the imagination. “The Red Wheelbarrow” is about the relationship between the imagination and reality.

In Spring and All, Williams explains that the imagination is the opposite of fantasy; it penetrates fantasies to reveal realities. It clears away personal and conventional associations and meanings that human beings have attached to things, and to the words that represent them, enabling human consciousness to perceive the things of reality as directly as possible. In Spring and All, Williams writes: “To refine, to clarify, to intensify that eternal moment in which we alone live there is but a single force—the imagination.”

The poet creates such an experience for the reader in “The Red Wheelbarrow.” The imagination is itself a force of nature that creates things like poems and wheelbarrows, just as nature creates rain and white chickens. The reader experiences the poet’s imagination in the process of making the poem, making a thing out of words to stand in relation to the reader as would an actual experience of the scene represented in the poem. Williams does not employ the lyric “I” of the poet’s personality or use the conventions and devices traditionally associated with poetry. This allows the reader to focus on the words and images of the poem. Williams’s strategies also seek to dissolve the personal ego of the reader. Forgetting self, the reader achieves a moment of pure awareness.

It is the poet’s mind that the reader experiences, as it selects and arranges the words of the poem, revealing the ideas implicit in them. The words depend on the things and the processes they name for their existence and meaning. In this light, the nonimagistic words in the poem are particularly interesting. The images name things and their visual qualities, but what is the difference between “a” red wheelbarrow and “the” red wheelbarrow? What ideas are referred to in the prepositions “on,” “with,” and “beside”? What is the meaning of “depends”? The ideas expressed by these words have been discovered by the human imagination in its contemplation of things and the relationships among them. Language depends on things, and civilization depends on language.

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