Emily Dickinson - Essay Example

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Name Professor Course 25 March 2011 “Expectation – is Contentment” An Analysis of Emily Dickinson's Subversion of Expectation in Five Poems In the nineteenth century, the United States was undergoing some serious political changes. During the poet Emily Dickinson's lifetime, from 1830 to 1886, the states clashed in civil war, Native Americans were removed from their homes on the Trail of Tears, and later events include the California Gold Rush and the beginning of industrialization…
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Emily Dickinson
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Download file to see previous pages In a tumultuous time, American writing became introspective and biographical (Casper, 19), and Dickinson's melancholic poetry of the self reflected both her immediate surroundings and her nationality. The mid-nineteenth century was also a time of high expectations for the future, and this was a theme that Dickinson picked up on in her work. The reader's expectations play a huge role in literature, and Dickinson played with them mercilessly, asking why we expect certain things and completely blind-siding us. Although it can be argued that our expectations of literature are merely to be entertained, and occasionally provoked, this essay will look at expectations as a motif of literature, both internal and external. This essay will look at five of Dickinson's poems, of varying lengths, styles and subjects, and show how the poet uses and manipulates the motif of 'expectation' to constantly surprise the reader, in ways both good and bad. It is difficult to date much of Dickinson's work, as her copious output was private, and typically her texts lack titles. The first line of the first poem to be discussed is “I had been hungry all the years”, and is a perfect introduction to the idea of subverted expectations. The extended metaphor of the poem uses lunch to represent a long anticipation for an event which turns out to be extremely disappointing – although it sounds silly, Dickinson's use of rhyme and rhythm creates a pounding tone which reinforces the sense of misfortune, and of high hopes dashed. The speaker describes herself as “trembling” (3) in impatience to eat the food, only to find that it makes her feel “ill and odd” (14), and that “Nature's dining-room” (12) in which she ate before is far more suited to her temperament. This could be an allegory of growing up, as the speaker fails to mention if she was allowed to return. The final stanza concludes the moral of the story, that the mere fact of not being able to eat creates hunger, which “The entering [into the new realm] takes away” (20). The speaker's expectations were always fruitless. The repetition of the word 'hungry' grounds the poem, reminding the reader of the physicality of the subject. Punctuation provides the same function in “Frequently the woods are pink”, a poem which subverts the very notion of expectation itself. The speaker of “Frequently” expresses wonder at the “Wonderful Rotation!” (11) of the earth, turning everything alternately “pink” (1) and “brown” (2). The liberal sprinkling of dashes and exclamation marks – five of the former and three of the latter, in a poem just twelve lives long – induces the reader to pause at certain points in the poem, enhancing the effect of the preceding line. The pauses echo the speaker's surprise, and implicitly encourage the reader to ask themselves: why do we not find the fast rotation of the earth as impressive and amazing as it is? Extending the question, does being accustomed to a phenomenon necessarily mean that we forget its wonder? The interjection of “– they tell me –” (9) increases the sense of wonder, as if the speaker cannot quite believe what “they” say. Sunrise and sunset are so magical as to deserve such a “Wonderful” ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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