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Wallace Stevens

Wallace Stevens, the author of “Anecdote of the Jar” writes in ways that possibly confuse readers or leave them wondering what has just been read. This is because essentially there is not just one specific meaning for his words. From the title, it can be inferred that there will be an anecdote, or short story, about a jar. What literally happens in this poem is unusual. The poem “Anecdote of the Jar” begins with a description of a simple jar placed in the wilderness. We can tell the speaker is the one who positioned the jar in the Tennessee wilderness because of the word use “I” in the first line and the rest of the story is from his point of view. The poem then goes on to describe ways the jar has taken over the location in which it has been placed. Stevens identifies the jar as high and striking while it stands on the hill among the wilderness, yet it is plain, bare, and seemingly useless. The speaker tells us that the jar rules over the wilderness. The little jar is a metaphor for civilization and its’ creations, in an otherwise natural world without mankind.
The wilderness comes under reign of the jar, altering its natural beauty, similar to the way people have control over the wild and change its original form. According to the speaker, the wilderness is no longer wild because of the jar. Stevens states that the “wilderness rose up to it the jar.” From the speaker’s point of view, a fixed object like a small jar has such a significant effect on the growing and once thriving nature. The wilderness must in turn grow around that jar. This jar is possibly a symbol of civilization and the man-made objects that come along with it. During the time Stevens wrote this poem, many Americans began to own cars, telephones, and radios for the first time ever; perhaps this fact has an influence on his poem. With this idea, the jar theoretically takes over and threatens the wilderness. Stevens makes it seem as if the jar has power over the wild even though it essentially has no life. It is ironic because while the wilderness has the power of growth, it is still hindered by the jar, which is lifeless and has no way of growing. In the third stanza, the speaker states that the jar “took dominion everywhere.” It took control over the wilderness that surrounded it and influenced the way it grew. When comparing the small jar to civilization, people over-power and diminish the natural beauty of wilderness the way Stevens describes the jar in his poem. Society has control over the way the wilderness grows according to our needs. People are so small compared to all the nature originally in the world and still have power over nature like the way Stevens describes the small jar in the wilderness.
The jar is viewed of as out of place and unusual when set in this specific location, just as civilization, presently, doesn’t belong in the wild. Realistically, it is odd for a jar to be set in the wilderness where it serves no purpose. In the opening stanza, the speaker points out that the jar is round: “And round it was, upon a hill.” Then again, in the third stanza he repeats the fact that it is round: “The jar was round upon the ground.” By doing this, he is clearly accentuating the detail that the geometric nature of the jar is only man-made and unnatural to the former wilderness it has been placed in. Stevens emphasizes that the jar is out of place stating it is “like nothing else in Tennessee.” The choice of Tennessee, rather than a place like New York, could possibly be because of the contrasting environments. Tennessee is known for wildlife and mountains while New York is known for skyscrapers and busy streets. The jar would fit better if it was placed in a location like New York or Chicago, mainly because there would be use for the jar. Stevens also identifies that “it did not give of a bird or bush.” The wilderness is home for trees and animals while it is a useless setting for lifeless objects like a jar. This impractical jar (presumably empty) originally had a purpose, to hold or contain things, while here in the wilderness, it does nothing but destroy the original peace. Connected to the idea that the jar is compared to civilization, man-kind also do not belong hand in hand in nature. Theoretically, people do not live in the wild but rather in towns or among others. If you placed a person in the wild, it would be unlike anything else there, because people are not animals or plants. The person would be outcast to the other things in the wild. Humans are different because of the power to create things. Plants or animals do not create new things but instead can only procreate and grow. People take nature as food, process it, and sell it in jars. The speaker also describes the jar as “gray and bare.” Stevens possibly uses these words to describe the jar because of the things people create, like technology. The nature is unique and filled with color while the material things humans create can be bland and replicated. These things contrast with nature and do not belong. When comparing people to the jar, it can be more clearly seen what Stevens means when he describes the jar in the wilderness. Through this, the speaker is showing us the that the jar or mankind will never justly be a part of the natural world and vice versa.
This poem tells us a lot about human society in general, when it is compared to the jar. From Stevens perspective, society cares about things in the eye of its self instead of considering its genuine meaning and its surrounding wilderness. The “gray and bare” jar in the incomparable environment shows how small and insignificant human society truly is. From Stevens perspective, human’s basic life is like a common jar. Societies everyday life contains work, eat, sleep, and repeat. In this way, our life resembles something made in a factory, going through the same process’s day by day. This contrasts the creative wilderness that is everchanging. Stevens shows he believes that nature is far more extraordinary than man-made objects. He recognizes that being human gives power, but also brings a threat. The hill was nothing to speak of before the jar, or theoretically, before man-kind was placed upon it, but after the jar was placed there, it brought more attention to the hill. Stevens states this in the first paragraph, “It made the slovenly wilderness / Surround that hill.” It may have brought attention to the hill, but it was the wrong kind of attention. It made the beautiful wilderness surrounding that jar seem more messy or careless in appearance. Both the jar and the wilderness clash against each other. Even though people are so small in comparison to the overwhelming nature, they still have a big impact on the surrounding world. The little insignificant jar brings competition between the natural world and the object. The reason Stevens chose to compare a small, insignificant jar to the seemingly endless nature, could possibly be to exaggerate the fact one person is very influential and has the power to affect its surroundings.
Most of Stevens poetry is baffling and usually not meant to be taken literally. In the “Anecdote of the Jar” the jar is a metaphor for something deeper, possibly the effect of man-kind or humanity on its surrounding environment. Stevens tells readers about how human society affects the wilderness without actually stating it. This may be to avoid bashing from critics during the time this was written. Basically, this poem brings out the importance of the wilderness in which society uses for its own benefit, while not have a way of giving back.

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