Dickinsons Poetry Domestic Middle Class Femininity

Essay add: 24-10-2015, 21:50   /   Views: 216

There are many ways in which Emily Dickinson's poetry reflects and comments on domestic and middle-class femininity. Different social and historical contexts influence significantly the perception of Emily Dickinson's poetry, with Dickinson using her poetry to express ways in which women of middle-class status are viewed within 19th century society, and demonstrate feminine domesticity as both constraining and enabling. With particular reference to poems 199, 734 and 1072, this essay argues viably with concepts of 19th century female domesticity and is concerned with middle class femininity through concepts of education, particularly amongst women and self-expression.

Dickinson essentially raises topics within her poems that break with traditional conventions of literature and poetry, and in turn allows this essay to explore factors within the selected poems and question the ideas of gender roles, femininity, class structure and the solitary individual.Emily Dickinson's poem 199 can be seen as a clear example of poetry which is concerned with domestic, middle-class femininity of the 19th century through its expression of female gender roles and the constant reference to the term "wife". Dickinson came from an educated middle class background and although she never married, her poetry reflects on the private self and female domesticity within the household, with poem 199 alternatively constraining and enabling female domesticity through the contrasts of all three stanzas.

The persona of poem 199 is evidently female, and the poem is from a female perspective and has to do with conventionalities of marriage, and possibly the notion that Dickinson feels that in order to become and embrace the idea of being a "woman", a girl must be married as it is "safer so". This concept of marriage within early 19th century American society would have been seen as a norm within the life of a woman, and once she was married, she became was bound and confined to life within the domestic sphere i.e. raising children and maintaining a household whilst the man was essentially the "breadwinner" (Baym, N.). In stanza one, the poem reflects on the persona who has "finished that other state" and who has essentially become the "Czar" or ruler of herself now that she has been wed.

Metaphor is a technique used frequently throughout Dickinson's poetry, and in poem 199, the use of the word Czar can be seen as significant as Dickinson has possibly chosen this order for a woman to have access to societal status within the 19th century, a woman needs to be married. Imagery in stanza two allows for a comparison to be made between the life of a single woman and that of a married woman and comparing marital status to heaven (as she often draws comparison to throughout her poems). She refers marriage to a "soft eclipse" possibly because Dickinson is saying that it is better to acknowledge individual femininity (or to be a woman) than to conform to and live behind a façade of culturally obligated marriage (Anderson, D. p 206).

Within the third stanza, Dickinson depicts female domesticity as both constraining and enabling as the lines "this being comfort" and "the other kind of pain" offer a paradox of married life being either full of pain or none at all in the sense that some women don't know any better, but she herself wants more out of life (Erkkila, B.pg 4). The poem ends with Dickinson seemingly dissatisfied with the idea of a married life and mocks 19th century society by stating that there is "no need to compare" and that she is "wife".There are many ways in which Emily Dickinson's poetry concerns aspects of domestic middle class femininity, and reflects and comments on its constraint over women who are to abide and conform to 19th century male dominated society.

Poem 732 is an example of the male dominance, power and influence that is held over a woman during the time period as the poem is essentially about a loveless relationship and a woman who "…rose to his requirement" and "dropt" her individuality for her husband. A feature of Dickinson's poetry includes her themes of alienation and the representation of herself out of society, which, can be linked to poem 732 in the sense that the poem conveys a sombre tone and the woman persona of the poem is essentially alienated and alone without her husband giving her love.

This in turn may also reflect Dickinson's self-removal from society and her status as an unmarried and lonely woman without love. "Dickinson was the lady and the intellectual whose leisure freedom ad space to think was made possible by the manual labour and proletarianization of others" (Erkkila, B. P 4) this as well as her educated background is possibly a reason as to why why she viewed female domesticity as constraining more than enabling and used her poetry as a method of breaking free from 19th century conventionalities and female social obligations. Poem 732 is seen alternatively as the constraining of femininity within the domestic sphere as lines three and four in stanza one state that "to take the honourable Work of Woman and of Wife" which means that she has given up the "playthings of her life" meaning certain aspects of her life in order to be dutiful to her commitment as a wife which Dickinson has emphasized through the capitalisation and the repetition of the letter W. Stanza two and three, Dickinson mentions wearing away, which may also reflect a change bound to happen within societal norms regarding patriarchy and male dominance and society's practices.Once again, Dickinson expresses her view on 19th century female domesticity and questions female gender roles through her own individual voice as a poet via her poem 1072.

The opening line in stanza one "title divine-is mine" is possibly the personas acknowledgment of herself as a grown mature individual, who is ready (though unwillingly) to embrace the concept of marriage. Or it can be seen as an ironic metaphor used once again in Dickinson's poetry to demonstrate the pretence behind the concept or façade of marriage. Heavenly imagery within the poem reflects Dickinson's spiritual background (Davidson, G. 2010) and also makes the poem susceptible to feminist readings i.e. "The Mad Woman in the Attic" and the idea of bracing the "angel or monster" (Sadoff, D F.). In this case, Dickinson appears to use both ideas simultaneously with the idea that the pure woman is essentially tempting to break free which is emphasised by Dickinson's use of the phrases "empress of cavalry and tri victory" and immerse herself within society as an individual, which would generally be frowned upon in this period of time.

Her poem appeals to and concerns a middle class feminine domesticity as it provided women who received some education to look beyond patriarchal boundaries and remove themselves from a conformist society and begin thinking for them. Once again, Dickinson looks at the idea of marriage as forced onto women with middle class stature, and emphasises through line 4 "betrothed without the swoon". Poem 1072 is hyphenated significantly possibly to emphasise the personas point of view within the poem which adds a stop start rhythm to the poem and through the use of simile and metaphor, talks about the self. Dickinson believed that women were confined within their domestic duties and had little access to "spiritual nourishment" hence the use of "God", a sense of spirituality and ironic underlying tone of the poem and perceiving the diligent Christian wives of 19th century American society as "fools" (Baym, N).

Poem 1072 concerns Dickinson's reoccurring theme of middle class female domesticity thorough her poetry indicates her concern for a societal issue which she believed to be significant. She often commented on patriarchy and marriage with irony that potentially contradicts itself as she was reclusive, eccentric and broke away from conventionalities of the 19th century.Through her poetry, Emily Dickinson is effectively concerned with middle class femininity through concepts of education and a want for self-expression, and is able to convey her feminine associated messages of love, pain and domesticity successfully to the reader. The idea of middle class femininity is significant within a number of Dickinson's poems, particularly poems 199, 732 and 1072 and often is depicted as both constraining and enabling as the persona is often subordinate to the role of wife, yet still reasons and questions life beyond the domestic sphere i.e. in poem 199 "why care"?

Emily Dickinson has broken with traditional 19th century conventions in order to emancipate and express herself as an educated writer and demonstrate the constraints and expectation that is present in a male dominated society, which has allowed for many individual conclusions and feminist readings to draw and reflect upon 19th century society and the significance of a woman's class and domestic duty/role. Through themes of gender roles as well as an implied experimentation of style, she has created an individualistic and altered expression of art, in which one can conclude Dickinson has successfully explored and applied throughout her poetry.

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