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William Carlos Williams And The New American Culture

1595 words - 6 pages

William Carlos Williams' poetry suggest two philosophies he had during his life. While not these ideas are not contrary, they also are not wholly supportive of one another. The first is his rejection of the American Dream – the belief that hard work will lead to success. It is important, with regard to the American Dream, to note Williams' own success within the framework of American society. The second goal seems to be an attempt to create a new, complete, American Culture. As a member of the modernist movement, Williams stands apart from many of his contemporaries not because he was radically different, but because of his approach to literature. While many of his peers focused on a rapidly changing civilization (especially in the wake of the First World War), and did so with continued reference to their European history, and the European literary tradition, Williams did not. Instead, he actively tried to create (not reshape, as he believed one did not yet exist) an American Culture.
The American Dream – the idea that hard work will result in success – did not resonate with Williams. In his poetry, there is a clear rejection of this idea, despite the irony of his success under the system. It is completely worth noting that despite the working-class background of his family, Williams was able to attend school through to a complete Ph. D in Medicine from one of the country's most respected schools, the University of Pennsylvania1. He continued to work as both, a physician and a poet, finding success at both. Despite this success, Williams (perhaps in part of his own diverse background) saw that the American Dream was not representative of a “unified vision of American Culture,” and attempted to bring this to the forefront of his writing2. To him, American Literature could not exist while it continued the European literary tradition – America was too diverse; to represent all of its cultures, it needed one representative language (with a supporting mythology)3. As a result of this, Williams (unlike his peers) stayed in America, and continued his work as a doctor (considering it a layperson's role, when compared to the culture-shaping position of the modern poet). It was through this job that he saw what he felt was the true America, believing his job provided “the best possible environment in which to develop a new poetry,”4.
Despite his discontent with the American Dream, Williams still made it his responsibility to create (or move toward) a new, wholly American culture. To do this, he used innovative poetry. Excerpts in the Norton Anthology of Williams' manifesto show his feelings toward traditional American industry and economy5. His stance that art, like anything of quality, must not be mass-produced, should not be created quickly, and requires time and effort to perfect, shows his opposition to the standing American way of life. Looking at both the content, and the structure, it is clear that Williams' poetry represents...

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