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The Idea of Order at Key West

The Idea of Order at Key West

by Wallace Stevens

Philosophical Viewpoints Theme

What? You thought Wallace wasn't going to bring the philosophy? Think again, busters. In "The Idea of Order at Key West," we can see Stevens grappling with something called philosophical Idealism. Wallace would have been familiar with the Idealism of guys like Plato, Kant, and Hegel—all big names in the philosophy game. But don't panic. No, seriously. You're panicking. Shmoop can tell. To understand this philosophical viewpoint in the poem, though, all you need to know is that Idealism deals with internal and external realms: the perception of reality and the part our minds play in the construction of external reality. Sound familiar? See? You got this. No problem!

Questions About Philosophical Viewpoints

  1. Which do you think the speaker sees as more important: the "real world" or human imagination? Why do you think so? 
  2. What do you think? Does the "real world" exist only in terms of our perceptions of it? Do you think human perception is necessary to complete the natural world? Put another way (you've probably heard this one before): If a tree falls in the woods, and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? Discuss.
  3. When you see the sea, are you seeing it as it really is, or are you seeing it in terms of what the sea has come to mean literally and metaphorically throughout human history? How might the speaker answer this question?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Thought block! Stevens gives it a good shot here, but art and philosophy do not belong together. Their aims are just too different. Art should stick to aesthetic (artistic) considerations and leave the philosophical questions to the professionals.

Wrong-o! We approve. "The Idea of Order at Key West" shows that the marriage of art and philosophy has two benefits: it can lead the artist to areas they might not previously have thought to explore, and it can make difficult philosophical ideas accessible to a broader range of people.

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