The Red Wheelbarrow Summary  by William Carlos Williams

William Carlos Williams’ Poem The Red Wheelbarrow 

so much depends
upon
a red wheel
barrow
glazed with rain
water
beside the white
chickens

The Red Wheelbarrow Summary 

In his poem, The Red Wheelbarrow, American poet William Carlos Williams describes a wheelbarrow which seems to be worn out. The poem has four stanzas, each with two lines and only four words.

In The Red Wheelbarrow, the speaker says that the wheelbarrow, most probably lying flatly, has done more than necessary and it still does so much of work. The tool, however, seems to be broken and it is left out in the rain. When the sun rays reach it, the wheelbarrow shines with rainwater. It is weather-beaten, both by the sun and the rain.

A red wheelbarrow. Source: Jacket2

Apart from the wheelbarrow, there are also some white chickens. According to The Red Wheelbarrow’s imagery, the wheelbarrow is left out on the floor around which there are some white chickens. Or, the speaker might also mean, there is a coop and the wheelbarrow is placed beside it.

William Carlos Williams’ The Red Wheelbarrow Analysis

If we tell someone William Carlos Williams’ The Red Wheelbarrow has four stanzas, a stranger to this poem might think it is huge. But, in fact, it is not so as it has only sixteen words in total. Nevertheless, it has a vast meaning regardless of its size. Williams has used multiple symbols and images to make the succinct poem worth thousands of words.

Furthermore, The Red Wheelbarrow has only one sentence without any punctuation. The first stanza of the poem “so much depends/ upon” shows that there is some kind of manipulation. The immediately following stanza says it is the manipulation of “a red wheel/ barrow.”

Since wheelbarrows are used in farming and construction, The Red Wheelbarrow has something to say about physical labor. But why is the wheelbarrow red? We cannot see its redness unless it is “glazed with rain/ water”. The wheelbarrow most probably bears the blood of the black American. The colored Americans work so hard for a living that they have to shed blood in order to satisfy their white bosses. The imagery of the “wheel barrow” suggests that they have no proper place for taking a rest because they have to work regardless of the weather.

The last stanza reveals that the wheelbarrow is “beside the white/ chickens.” In fact, there is no mention of the word ‘black’ but there is ‘white’. By ‘chickens’ Williams refers to the white folks who stroll, play, and eat to excess.

Moreover, the speaker of the poem assumes that the White American has converted the black American into machines. The chicken breathes whereas the wheelbarrow works when it is manipulated. Likewise, we can also take this as an example of Kar Marx’s theory of class struggle. He argues that unless all the working class people unite to revolt against the so-called elites, discriminations at the workplace will keep thriving. In The Red Wheelbarrow, Williams has used imagery to reflect on this issue. The wheel and the barrow who represent the working class are separate words. Maybe what the poet wants to see is a ‘wheelbarrow’ but the reality is it is still a ‘wheel barrow’. It means both wheel and barrow should unite in order to gain strength.

In addition, there is no punctuation mark including at the end of the poem. The absence of comma signifies that black people keep on working without a pause. Similarly, the end of the poem without a full stop suggests that racism has not come to an end yet.

The Red Wheelbarrow Theme

William Carlos Williams’ poem The Red Wheelbarrow carries the themes of racism, class struggle, manipulation, objectification, etc.

  1. racism – the black vs the white
  2. class struggle – working class vs. upper class
  3. manipulation – of black people by white ones
  4. objectification – white people and the elites of capitalist society consider the black and lower class people as mere objects.

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