Interpretations of The Red Wheelbarrow

by Don Rey




     For thousands of years, poets have written poems utilizing an infinite array of devices to output an idea or a set of ideas in their own way of thinking. These poems, written both long and short and in many different styles, are sometimes written to get a specific point across, and sometimes to leave an idea open-ended. The one-sentence poem, The Red Wheelbarrow by William C. Williams, is open to much interpretation. There are several aspects of the poem that may be interpreted with slight or vast difference.

     The time period in which The Red Wheelbarrow was written was vastly different than that of today. The poem is dated 1923, and many aspects of life were different in that time. The stock market was beginning its rapid deterioration as the Great Depression approached. World War I had ended recently, so this major transition from wartime boom to terrible depression was magnified. With this in mind, the wheelbarrow can be viewed as the tool of a hard working man. The chickens suggest that the owner of the wheelbarrow is a farmer. Farmers during the time period would rely heavily on simple tools and equipment such as the wheelbarrow. This wheelbarrow would be very important to the farmer, so much would truly depend upon the red wheelbarrow. The rain water on the barrow implies that it is often used, further displaying its importance. I do not believe that the wheelbarrow is specifically important to the voice of the poet, but that he writes about the value of the wheelbarrow to the everyday farmer in general. This everyday farmer would look to the wheelbarrow as a necessary crutch. It is used to transport the goods produced on his (or her) farm in order that they can be sold. This may be the most or one of the most important tools to the farmer. Without it, valuable goods would need to be transported by hand, in a much slower, less productive fashion. This would make the tough living for a farmer even more difficult. The wheelbarrow is an indispensable tool for the farmer of the 1920s.

     The tone and the diction of the poem is also important to the interpretation of the poem. The fact that the wheelbarrow was "glazed with rain water" (Williams 5) suggests that there was a light rain, and makes for a light, calm setting. There is also no movement written about in the poem. It is like the still painting of a farm scene. It is intended to display special beauty underlying a meaningful scene of everyday life. This would most likely not happen during the day because the wheelbarrow would be in use fairly often. There is light, however, because the voice describes the colors of objects in the scene. In dim or no light, the colors would not be important. The setting is probably early morning or late evening. The sun is either rising or setting, allowing the rainwater to glaze the barrow in light as well as with moisture. There is no noise described, further implying a calm, untouched, perfection.

     In addition to tone and diction, the specific colors described and implied hold a great importance for the meaning and interpretation of the poem. The wheelbarrow is red, first of all. Red is a bold color. The wheelbarrow boldly stands out among its surroundings of white chickens, and possibly a green lawn or pasture. It justifiably professes its importance with its color. Red is also the color of flesh and blood. The farmer puts his body through this hard, perspiring, shedding blood, and straining muscles every day with the use of this wheelbarrow. While the wheelbarrow is the tool the farmer strains at using, it is the tool that makes the farmer’s work easier and more efficient as mentioned earlier. Red also suggests the farmer’s love for his equipment. He apparently uses the equipment often if it is sitting outside in the rain. He relies on it, therefor he must love it. Maybe he loves his work too. It is very difficult and demanding, but when he finishes, he can relax for some time before the next day begins. This is his reward, and though small, it would appear great to such a hardworking man. The color of the chickens is also important. White chickens are not incredibly common. The voice mentions them, however, probably to display the purity of the scene or of the farmer’s life. Along with the glazing of water, it suggests a certain perfection of this painting made through words. The voice of the poem is an artist with words, and has painted such a pure, scene filled with meaning and beauty at the same time. The rain water may be associated with the color blue, as well. The red barrow, white chickens, and blue water suggest that the voice of the poem is displaying a view of a common working American. This farmer is lucky enough to own equipment, land, and chickens in this time. He is subsidized by the government so that he keeps producing necessary food, even through shortages in money. The voice suggests that this is the American dream through the clever red white and blue objects.

     Williams, in a poem made up of a single sentence, has painted a unique American scene, maybe common, but beautiful in its own way. Not only is its beauty painted in this poem, but its meaning to the American of the 1920s is apparent. While the wheelbarrow is necessary and infinitely important the farmer, the farmer is as necessary and important to the American society. Even today, the farmer is important to society. This painting of words has a meaning that lasts through time.



Works Cited:

Williams, William Carlos. The Red Wheelbarrow. 1923

The Red Wheelbarrow

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

- William Carlos Williams, 1923


Essay written for Mr. K. Jahi Adisa - English 109 - University of Connecticut - Spring 2001

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