We are here with another post. This time, we are going to discuss the summary, analysis and questions of The Young Housewife, a poem by William Carlos. The poem is frequently anthologized and considered Carlos Williams’ best effort. Let us first see the text of the poem.
Summary of The Young Housewife by William Carlos
“The Young Housewife” is a 1916 William Carlos Williams poem. The poem was republished in 1923 in his celebrated poetry collection Spring and All. It is notable for its concrete pictures that are presented in a way that allows for multiple interpretations. It is a small poem with only ten lines and a short line length. Each line is unrhymed and 7 syllables long. The poem is frequently anthologized and considered Carlos Williams’ best effort.
Although this poem is straightforward, its message is more intricate and complex than it appears. This poem is composed of three stanzas and does not employ a specific rhyme scheme. “The Young Housewife” explores the themes of sex, loneliness, and being imprisoned.
The first stanza establishes the tone that the young housewife is imprisoned “behind the wooden walls of her husband’s house.” The fact that the house is her husband’s, not theirs, is significant since it demonstrates that the wife is subordinate to the husband in the relationship. Additionally, it is referred to as a house rather than a home, implying she has no emotional commitment to either the place or her spouse. At 10:00 a.m., the wife is dressed in her negligee. At this moment, her spouse would have been at work for a few hours. The writer purposefully picked the term “negligee” over “nightgown” or “pyjamas.” due to its sexual connotation. The young housewife is imprisoned in her home yet seeks attention from the opposite sex, possibly to feel more than a housekeeper to her husband.
The young housewife “comes to the curb” in the second stanza to address the people. The curb serves as a physical barrier between her husband’s home and the rest of the world. She does not proceed beyond the curb. The woman is uncorseted, adding additional sexual dimension to the image. She appears to be attempting to capture the iceman and fisherman’s attention, but she is nervous about herself due to her “shy…tucking in stray ends of hair” She desires to appear appealing and is therefore flirting with the males. Perhaps the wife is attempting to reassure the fisherman that she remains a catch (har har). The spectator compares her to a lifeless leaf that has fallen from the tree and is about to dry out and crack.
The viewer in the car runs over dried leaves and smiles at her in the third stanza. At this point, he had passed the housewife twice in his automobile. The fact that he compared her to a fallen leaf and ran them over is significant since this man may have previously engaged in sexual relations with other housewives. He could be seeking out lonely housewives, making them feel special, and then discarding them by running them over.
Analysis of The Young Housewife by William Carlos
At ten A.M. the young housewife moves about in negligee behind the wooden walls of her husband’s house. I pass solitary in my car. Then again she comes to the curb to call the ice-man, fish-man, and stands shy, uncorseted, tucking in stray ends of hair, and I compare her to a fallen leaf. The noiseless wheels of my car rush with a crackling sound over dried leaves as I bow and pass smiling.
The first three lines of Williams’ poem are concrete and specific. We begin this poem at 10 am in ing with a “young housewife.” Then, in lines 2 and 3 we find she is “behind/the wooden walls of her husband’s house.” We are not given much, be we are still able to make intelligent inferences about the character of this poem. Just by calling her a “young housewife” we know that she is bound to marriage, and her freedom is limited. Because she is depicted as “behind/wooden walls” we are hemmed in with her. The woman is trapped by the walls of a house that is not even hers to own. Williams removes possession of the house and gives the ownership to her husband, and we sense that she is without any authority. As for the physical aspects of the woman, we only know that she is moving “about in negligee…” The word “negligee” is usually used as a noun, but Williams turns it into more of a state of being. He does not state that she “moves about in a negligee” because if he had done that, he would have only defined the clothes the woman was wearing, opposed to this more kinetic description of her movements. So far, the tone in these three lines has been one of constriction and a small hint at sexuality; the latter originating from the situation: a young, bored woman in a negligee wandering about in her backyard. The last line of the stanza introduces a drastic change: the first-person narrator passes by “solitarily” in his car. The way Williams has devised the sentence structure keeps this detail until the end, and when we discover it, we are shocked. We now feel that the narrator has been watching this woman because it is the narrator who has been describing the scene to us. If this poem had been in third-person we would have felt that the passing by is more of a coincidence, but with the introduction of the “I” we are apprehensive of the narrator. As readers, we have moved from an initial feeling of constriction to suspicion toward the narrator and his motives.
The next stanza begins with “Then again…” And this seems like a signal to a new incident, different from the one in the first stanza. We find that she is still confined to the house, as she “comes up to the curb.” After that, she begins to calls on to “ice-man” and the “fish-man” and then “stands/ shy, uncorseted…” We now have a different image of this woman. We find that she is testing her boundaries, and gives out slightly sexual hints. The way she “stands/shy, uncorseted tucking in…” is our hint to this. The juxtaposition of “shy” and “uncorseted” gives us a vivid mental picture of the nature of this woman. She is there on the curb trying to act innocent, but she is carefully giving out sexual suggestions. The line break here at “tucking in” makes us want to know, immediately, what she is tucking in. We follow the line to the next line and discover it is a “stray end of hair.” This is a completely innocent movement, but the way Williams chooses to reveal it to us, makes us anticipate each line with more enthusiasm.
The line breaks in lines 8 and 9 also keep us anticipating. The statement “I compare her/” makes us wonder what will he compare her to. This is the first time we are brought back to the narrator since his sudden involvement in line 4. We follow line 8 into 9 and discover that he compares her “to a fallen leaf.” This is the only comparison in the entire poem, and it appears weak. I was expecting something more liberating, something that made her more attractive for him. But after considering what words are associated with a “fallen leaf” it makes more sense. Words like alone, separated, and fragile. I think the narrator sees her as these things. The sound of the phrase “fallen leaf” is soft. There isn’t a harsh consonant in the phrase, and it starts and ends on the same soft “f” sound. This softens the tone of the narrator, and he is not as alarming as he was in the first stanza.
The tone in these last few lines is comparable to the first stanza. We still feel slightly repressed, and the narrator is still watching this woman from what seems to be a distance. In this stanza, however, the woman is trying to push her boundaries, by going up to the curb and calling to other men with sly hints at sexuality. With this last stanza, we are wondering if the man will make advancement on the woman, and the atmosphere is one of curiosity and anxiousness.
In this last stanza, Williams gives us a sort of oxymoron with “The noiseless wheels of my car/rush with a crackling sound over/” The “noiseless wheels” seems to clash with “a crackling sound” and we are wondering why this is. We are also still waiting for the resolution between the housewife and the narrator. Because of the “noiseless wheels” we know that the man is still in the car, but the “crackling sound” is throwing us off, and it is in the last stanza where we discover the man’s true intentions. The poem states that the narrator “bow[s] and pass[es] smiling.” At first, this makes as much sense as the “fallen leaf” comparison. It is difficult to bow in a car, and we are still wondering about the “crackling sound over/dried leaves.” It is also a strange way to end this poem. It is almost disappointing because we were ready for a stronger resolution. The best explanation, in light of this light-hearted ending, is
What is the style of the poem?
“The Young Housewife” is stylistically contemporary in that it has an open structure and form but is also extremely focused on the middle class and everyday life. The facts highlighted are everyday occurrences that would have been familiar to Williams’ readers at the time, as well as readers now. Williams frequently employed colloquial language in his poems. This contrasted with the desire of many other modernist poets of the era to write for a highly educated or extremely precise readership. Rather than that, he took an imagist approach to his poetry, employing precise language to conjure up strong pictures that elicited a response from the reader.
Discuss the structure of the poem?
The poem is divided into three stanzas of varied lengths. The first has four lines, then five, and finally three. “The Young Housewife” is written entirely in free poetry, with unrhymed and unmetered lines. Williams puts up a distinct scene in each stanza by offering the reader a rough picture of what is going on and then providing more and more detail as you read further. The poem is structured to begin at the beginning of the housewife’s day and follow her throughout. The poem’s short style allows the reader to form their own opinions about the narrator and his objectives. Williams prefers to let the language follow the rhythms and patterns of the time’s speech.
Describe the themes of the poem.
The themes of gender and class interactions can be interpreted in a variety of ways. Because of the nature of poetry in general and Williams’ work in particular, none of them can be shown to be true, but all perspectives are valuable.
First, by delving into the poem’s structure, it might be viewed as poetry about boundaries and isolation. The speaker and the housewife’s interactions are separated by cultural conventions in the first verse, which portrays the housewife behind her “wooden walls,” a physical separation “of her husband’s house.”
The housewife has moved to the curb in the second stanza, removing physical barriers between her and the speaker. The speaker is able to get a clearer view of her and begin to compare her to a fallen leaf. When the speaker makes this comparison, the reader can believe that the speaker is genuinely imagining the housewife in his mind, breaking down another barrier with the housewife existing in his mind.
They are separated again in the final stanza when the speaker identifies his location as he drives by the house.
Another interpretation of this poem is that it is a rape fantasy. The speaker describes his wheels crushing the leaves in the poem, and he refers to the young housewife as “a fallen leaf.”
This encourages the reader to conclude that his smile while crushing the leaves is an indicator of his desire to crush the housewife similarly.
One could argue that this is a modern-day fairy tale. The speaker is the gallant knight going by in his automobile, which is essentially a modern-day white horse. Meanwhile, the young housewife plays the role of the slightly unkempt damsel in distress. Her appearance and demeanour may be regarded as quiet and meek, which are attributes widely admired in both fairy tale princesses and housewives. She is also hidden behind her husband’s walls, much like a princess could be confined in a tower.
Another possibility is that the driver of the car and the young housewife were lovers in the past. The fallen leaf symbolises their deceased love affair, and his driving over the leaves symbolises his realisation that the affair is over.