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Analysis


Symbols, Imagery, Wordplay

Welcome to the land of symbols, imagery, and wordplay. Before you travel any further, please know that there may be some thorny academic terminology ahead. Never fear, Shmoop is here. Check out our...

Form and Meter

Williams was one of the pioneers of free verse: poetry with no regular rhyme or rhythm. Of course, the problem with a term like "free verse" is that it's defined by what it lacks, not what it has....

Speaker

The speaker is caught totally unawares by the passage of a noisy fire truck. He has kind of a Zen moment right in the middle of the street. We imagine him walking down the street with a thermos of...

Setting

"The Great Figure" is probably set in an anonymous big American city in the 1920s. There are lamps on the street, but they are not as bright as the high-powered streetlights you see in cities today...

Sound Check

"The Great Figure" is an example of a poem that sounds like the thing it describes, an effect known as onomatopoeia. Specifically, the poem sounds like the Doppler effect. (Poetry, meet physics.)Yo...

What's Up With the Title?

As a title, "The Great Figure" is a big mystery. The noun "figure" can simply mean "number," like when you multiply two figures together in math class. It can also refer to a person's body, like "N...

Calling Card

English teachers love to use poems by William Carlos Williams to show that poetry can be super-short and super-sweet. Williams also wrote some great longer poems, but the short ones have become the...

Tough-O-Meter

Like Walt Whitman before him, Williams transformed American poetry by helping to free it from the fancy diction of European literature. "The Great Figure" is meant to provoke clear, intense images...

Brain Snacks

Sex Rating

No steaminess here. The word "figure" refers to the number 5, and not a voluptuous body. And all those clanging sirens and rumbling wheels don't really make for a romantic mood.
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