Study Guide

Anecdote of the Jar Themes

  • Man and the Natural World

    "Anecdote of the Jar" is the story of a jar placed in the wilderness and the effects that jar has on the wilderness. The jar becomes a symbol of civilization, all that is man-made, which stands up against the natural world. Throughout the poem we are left to wonder which side the speaker is on. At the end, we see that, though the jar may overpower the wilderness in the speaker's point of view, the wilderness still has the power of growth and procreation, which the jar does not, and can never, have. In your face (er, lid), jar head!

    Questions About Man and the Natural World

    1. What do you think the jar symbolizes? Why? 
    2. What do you imagine the wilderness described in the poem looks like before and after the arrival of the jar? 
    3. Why do you think the jar makes the wilderness no longer wild? 
    4. Do you think the speaker prefers the wilderness, or the jar? Why?

    Chew on This

    That's better! This poem shows how the intrusion of a man-made object can improve the natural world.

    Nope. Actually, that's like, way worse. This poem shows that the intrusion of man-made objects ruins the beauty of the natural world.

  • Life, Consciousness, and Existence

    Wrapped up in the conflict between the natural and the man-made, there is significant debate in "Anecdote of the Jar" about life, consciousness, and existence—the whole shebang. First, we've got the whole idea of point of view—the speaker's consciousness is affected by the way the jar morphs the landscape in which it's placed. Second, we get the idea that birds and bushes—things that are capable of breeding or growing, of sustaining life—are valued as very different from the jar. This poem seems to recognize that just being alive gives a kind of power, even though in a way all living things are threatened by the reign of our own man-made objects. Yipee!

    Questions About Life, Consciousness, and Existence

    1. What effect does the word "I," in line 1, have on the rest of the poem? 
    2. What role does perspective, or point of view, play in this poem? 
    3. What do you take line 11 ("It did not give of bird or bush") to mean in relation to the rest of the poem? Why?
    4. What kind of "port" do you think the speaker is referring to in line 8? Why?

    Chew on This

    Nice try, Mr. Jar. This poem shows that the ability to procreate and grow is central to existence.

    "All your life are belong to us." In this poem, Stevens shows how the spread of humanity has extended to influence every type of earthly existence.

  • Transformation

    It's funny how a jar, which can't really transform itself, can have such a transformative effect on the environment around it, at least in the point of view of our speaker. In "Anecdote of the Jar," the little jar changes the wilderness around it, figuratively whipping it into significance so that it's no longer wild. So take that, wilderness! We have to also think about how this little jar is a kind of symbol of industrialization, and a world that is transforming and ever becoming more reliant on technology. Still, though, the jar itself cannot, like the birds and bushes so rampant in Tennessee, transform without the hand of humankind. Well, so take that little jar!

    Questions About Transformation

    1. How might the jar transform the wilderness out of the wild? 
    2. Do you think that the jar, in any way, was transformed by its placement? Why, or why not? 
    3. What effect does reading about the jar's transformative powers over the wilderness have on you as a reader? As a person? Are those effects different? 
    4. What, if anything, in this poem, remains unchanged by the placement of the jar?

    Chew on This

    Close, but no man-made cigar. Though the jar transforms the wilderness by bringing it under its dominion, the wilderness retains some qualities that are beyond the reach of the jar.

    There's more than meets the eye in the wild. In this poem, the power of the wilderness is that it can transform through procreating and growing, while the jar is bound to its original form.

  • Visions of America

    Though "Anecdote of the Jar" focuses on Tennessee, Tennessee is, after all, one of the United States. (At least, the last time we brought up Google Maps it was.) The mention of the name of a particular state, we're guessing, has more to do with American and human ideas of the natural world and human borders than a specific attribute of the state itself. Though this poem has a lot to say about society in general, it specifically takes place in the country of pilgrims and pioneers who were, like the jar, conquerors of an untamed land—America.

    Questions About Visions of America

    1. What do you imagine when you think about the state of Tennessee?
    2. What do you think is the significance of the setting of this poem? 
    3. How would this poem be different if it were set, say, in Canada? Why? 
    4. What insights does this poem offer you about American society?

    Chew on This

    Bush vs. Jar! The poem shows that the conflicts between the man-made and the wilderness that may not be unique, but is representative of America at large.

    It's no accident, gang. The inclusion of the name of a state involves American culture into the ideas in this poem.