An Analytical Essay on Emily Dickinson
Emily Dickinson was a woman who lived in times that are more traditional; her life experiences influence and help us to understand the dramatic and poetic lines in her writing. Although Dickinsons poetry can often be defined as sad and moody, we can find the use of humor and irony in many of her poems. By looking at the humor and sarcasm found in three of Dickinsons poems, “Success Is Counted Sweetest”, “I am Nobody”, and “Some keep the Sabbath Going to Church”, one can examine each poem show how Dickinson used humor and irony for the dual purposes of comic relief and to stress an idea or conclusion about her life and the environment in the each poem.
Emily Dickinson was born in Amherst Massachusetts; a small farming town that had a college and a hat factory. There, she was raised in a strict Calvinist household while receiving most of her education at a boarding school that followed the American Puritanical tradition. She seldom left her hometown; virtually, her only contact with her friends came to be made through letters. As a young woman, Dickinson rejected comforting traditions, resisted male authority, and wrestled alone with her complex and often contrary emotions. Although she was claimed to be a high-spirited and active young woman, Dickinson began to withdraw from society in the 1850’s. The many losses she experienced throughout her life, the death of her father, mother, close neighbors, and friends influenced her life largely and led her to write about death to an enormous amount. Dickinson made a few attempts during her life to be taken as more than an amateur poet; on one occasion, she sent a collection of her poems to a correspondent who was a published poet. His criticism of her poetry devastated Dickinson, and she never made another attempt towards publishing her works. Evident through her letters and poems, her poetry records intense devotion, sharp, skeptical independence, doubt, and what repeatedly reflects her happiness and despair.
In the poem, “Success is Counted Sweetest”; Dickinsons emphasis is less on humor and more on expressing irony. Here it is bitterness expressed towards the status or notion of success that is most felt by the reader as Dickinson reflects on the nature of success and how it can be best appreciated and understood by those who have not achieved it.
While the previous poem expresses the poets bitterness and sorrow with one aspect of her life, “I am Nobody” uses humor without irony to address another. In this poem, Dickinson’s style appears almost child-like in its of descriptions including frogs and bogs. Dickinson seems to be addressing her spinster, hermit-like existence, and her preference for it. The poet relates through her writing that her situation has not left her without a sense of humor, but in fact has allowed her to maintain a child-like outlook on life rather than adapting to the tedious norms of her society. She mocks the conventional need for self-importance through publicity suggesting that the audience is not that interested by creating the mysterious feeling of an arcane society of social outcasts. In this poem, she effectively uses humor to soften a critique of elite members of her society.
In addition, in the poem “Some Keep the Sabbath Going to Church”, she questions the sincerity of those who attend church on Sunday on a customary basis. Through the use of comparing the formalities of church with her own celebration of the Sabbath through the appreciation of nature, Dickinson casually suggests that those in attendance at church may not be as sincere in their worship as she is. Dickinson ridicules the congregation as she accuses them of attending merely for show and to gain status in the community. Also, she argues with the notion that attending church alone will lead towards salvation, suggesting that it is her own actions of finding God in nature that will lead to the path of redemption. The humor in this poem is not as explicit as in the other poems discussed, nor is the irony as directly expressed as in “Success is Counted Sweetest”. The reader can sense Dickinson’s sarcasm in the opening lines of “Some Keep the Sabbath going to Church” – / I keep it staying home, and will react to its most definitive form in the closing lines of So instead of getting to Heaven, at last Im going, all along. While the descriptive are humorous, Dickinson appears to be confessing her own individual, private communion with God to the reader. Thus she does not emphasize the humor in the comparison of the objects in order not to trivialize her own beliefs, but instead allows enough humor to enter the description to emphasize the poem with the child-like free spiritedness.
Dickinson was a poet highly skilled in the use of humor and irony and she effectively used these tools in her poetry to stress a point or idea. However, her frustration, bitterness and independence are felt through the expressive lines of her poetry while at the same time concealing her concerns in a light-hearted and irreverent tone. Emily Dickens’s works contain deep emotion and her words will continue to amaze those that have the privilege of reading them.