Sunday, January 16, 2011

Critical Essay on Emily Dickinson

Critical Essay on Emily Dickinson

In her poem, "The Soul has Bandaged moments" Emily Dickinson portrays the idea of a women's soul fighting for freedom and then stepping down from her platform. Dickinson personifies the Soul as a female entity torn between Fright and a Lover. In this poem Dickinson possesses the desire to fight against social standards imposed on women and the stereotypes of feminine behavior. The Soul is rendered helpless by fear at first, but finds the strength to break free. The freedom to love is described as seeming perfection, yet it is not without its dangers.

The poem shows the female souls rebellion and the happiness that it brings when she finally breaks down to the "Lover". This happiness is stifled, however and the cause is not clear. Poem #512 works to suggest that along with unbridled passion come vulnerability, the risk of loss, and thus a new cause for fear. The woman figure in the poem is described as being intimidated by the idea of letting herself go so freely, which would go against her socially taught norms of constraint.

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Through her use of imagery Dickinson is able to show how intimidation leads her Soul to feel captured after a moment of break through. Dickinson depicts Fright as a powerful hindering force in the first two stanzas. Its presence leaves the Soul "Bandaged" and "appalled", both bound as well as weakened and terrified (1-2). The idea of shock is further supported by Fright's "ghastly" appearance (3). Fright is a mischievous "Goblin" with "long fingers" (5-7). Not only is fear a demon, but also one who has a threatening grasp. The grasp of the Fright comes up and it stopped "to look at her" (4) This judging can be related to the strict ways society judged women's actions. Ambition and the "moments of Escape" were not condoned. Society's standards impose such a fear to her Soul that it freezes her hair, a sign of femininity. The Soul is so imposed by and scared of the looming Fright that it hinders her natural self. It is Fright that confines the Soul and hinders her unrestrained expression of Love. Dickinson could be expressing all of these feelings of fear to play along with the feminine themes of the time. The word "Lover" implies a sinful sexual relationship and supposedly this would scare an innocent lady.

The poem describes a moment of freedom between feelings of horror and fright and in this moment the Soul is able to be free like sound. This is shown in Dickinson's use of the word "Bomb" (13). The word is appropriate not only because it is an explosive device but also it could relay the image of a church bell that "swings upon the hours" (14). This image makes the figure more powerful and gives the woman control over time. She has the liberty to decide the hours and counts them in a song. Yet, through her song she also revealing her whereabouts and precipitating her capture. The swinging has a double meaning in that it brings forth images of the gallows and death which is where the Soul will soon return.

Dickinson's bee metaphor seems to imply the Soul does not know quite what to do with her freedom. The movements of a bee are quick and "delirious borne" portrays the idea that she is too overwhelmed with happiness to make a decision. Like the Soul of a women one would assume the bee enjoyed its place in society. The job of the bee is to pollinate roses, which implies motherhood for a woman's soul. Yet the rose is described as a dungeon and the bee wants to taste liberty instead of being nurturing to a flower. This indirectly critiques the social expectations of womanhood. In escaping the female soul is able to "touch liberty" and all senses are aroused for the reader to a point where the reader can understand the delirious feelings of the woman. Yet, the freedom seems perfect. Dickinson uses the image of noon to represent the day at its brightest, the sun at its highest, and a feeling of warmth. Paradise, in the same way, is the pinnacle of perfection and pleasure.

The pleasure she feels through freedom lasts only a short while before the Soul submits again to the constrains of social norms. The Soul's break through contains images that are furthered in the third stanza. The lines, "When, Felon led along, / With shackles on the plumed feet" reinforce the earlier lines "swings upon the hours" and show the double meaning behind the freedom she momentarily felt. She has committed a crime against standards and these moments are "retaken" by her imposers. The tone is one of tired submission. Being "Bandaged" seems more like a caring, healing practice, rather than a binding one (1). The Soul is called a "Felon" (20), perhaps having committed the crime of feeling too much. She is "led along" (20) in shackles, yet being led relieves the pressure of having to choose her own path. Fright's "Salute" and "Caress" of the Soul become gestures of acknowledgment and affection, and thus reassuring (5-6). The "Horror" indeed "welcomes" her back again (23). Captivity here is a haven, as ungoverned "Liberty" seems too threatening (17). By choosing fear, the Soul avoids the possibility of losing all control, being completely vulnerable, and getting hurt.

The rhyme scheme of the poem correlates with the freedom experienced in the third and fourth stanza. In the first two stanzas there is almost perfect rhyme: "her" and "stir" and "hair", "o'er", and "fair". Then the poem escapes the confines of rhyme as the Soul escapes her Fright of love. When "retaken" (19) by Fright in the sixth stanza, perfect rhyme returns. Dickinson is able to show through her use of rhyme scheme how she as a poet is constrained in the same way that she is constrained as a lover, through social standards.

The diction in the last two lines signifies the extinction of her freedom. The word tongue extends the song images of the earlier stanzas, yet this time she is without the power of her tongue and therefore song. The bells have stopped ringing and there is no celebration when her captivity resumes. The word "brayed" is associated with the harsh, piercing sound a donkey makes, but the word "not" implies she is silenced beyond the degree of animals. The Soul is forced to be completely silent and submissive in her world of pain.


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