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Modernist Poetry Explication: The Young Housewife

W. C. Wiliiams
W. C. Wiliiams

Written by William Carlos Williams, The Young Housewife explores elements of sexism and gender inequality through modernist language.

Upon an initial read, the diction exudes a delicate and gentle image of a young woman walking to the curb. Without her corset, the author portrays a real and authentic woman rather than a face behind a veil, as many poets of the time. On the surface, it appears as though the narrator merely observes this women on a typical Fall morning. However, after delving deeper into the language, it is evident that Williams chooses to use a condescending and misogynistic tone. He highlights the home as “her husband’s house,” despite the fact that she runs the domestic life. Additionally, he purposefully elects to specify the workers she waits for as the “ice-man” and the “fish-man,” insinuating that the world of work and business is best suited for males. William Carlos Williams has the narrator “compare her to a fallen leaf,” instantly placing himself in a role of power over her. Moreover, a leaf represents a small, dead, piece of a whole; lost without the grounding of a more stable tree. This figurative language suggests that women are lost without a man to stabilize them. Finally, the last line captures the moment when the tires on the narrator’s car crush the “dried leaves,” signifying men taking advantage of women.

Further questions arise surrounding the nature of the relationship between the narrator and the young housewife. For instance, referring to the woman as the housewife as opposed to housewife suggests the woman’s individuality. Further, the narrator had to pass the woman more than once over the course of the poem, alluding to a possible stalking behavior. The narrator also refers to the “wooden walls” of her home, a feature he would only have known by having seen them. Finally his unconventional decision to bow as he drove by, smiling, conveys a rather creepy image.

By contrasting issues of sexism and misogyny from the time period with diction suggesting simple adoration, Williams takes a modernist approach to redefining gender roles. His societal critique can be viewed here.

Published inClose ReadingHonors AssignmentLiterary Insight

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