Abstract

Although Williams has been praised for depicting working-class life in verse, many of his poems on the subject are marked by curious evasions. This essay considers three aspects of his approach that have received little attention. First, Williams minimizes or erases working-class people in settings where they would presumably be central. Second, he avoids depicting manual labor entirely or treats it as a metaphor for other forms of work. Third, he opposes any attempts to read his poems about the working class politically, by evoking and then quickly revoking the potential for political allegory. These evasions can be traced back to Williams’s distaste for poetry that places politics over form, as well as his objections to Marxist thought. But the poems also betray doubts about his ability to understand and represent working-class life in light of his more privileged social situation. By close reading a range of canonical and lesser-known poems, this article demonstrates that Williams’s portrayal of the working class is far more slippery, avoidant, and conflicted than the scholarship has acknowledged.

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