Emily Dickinson

Topics: Death, Emily Dickinson, Afterlife Pages: 6 (1484 words) Published: July 17, 2013
Jessica Francis

Mrs. Byrne Pd. 6-7

English 120

2 May 2013

“Because I Could Not Stop for Death”: An Analysis of Emily Dickinson’s Style

Emily Dickinson was an exceedingly eccentric poet of the Romanticism movement, whose fascination with death and the afterlife is embodied in her poem “Because I Could Not Stop for Death.” The piece opens from the viewpoint of a female speaker, who is called upon by the personified character of Death to take the journey to the afterlife. It is evident that the poet’s troubled life and disillusionment with society spurred many deep and insightful works about her perspective on her own existence. Dickinson effectively uses the tools of personification and imagery to portray a soul’s odyssey through death. Using subtle symbolism and by personifying Death as a suitor in her poem “Because I Could Not Stop for Death,” Dickinson paints an image of her concept of the final departure based on her own personal experiences.

Emily Dickinson was born to a middle-class family on December 10, 1830 in Amherst, Massachusetts. Her father was a Yale-graduate, chief financial officer, lawyer, congressman, and an intellectual; he was not very involved in Dickinson’s life, albeit serving as her inspiration (Spiller 810).On the other hand, she did not get along with her mother: “Emily Norcross was not an intellectual by nature- she barely understood much of her daughter’s poetry...the mother was lonely and nonliterary,” (Forman n.p.). Forman also states that Dickinson was frustrated that her educational horizons were limited as a woman, although she attended the esteemed Mount Holyoke Female Seminary (Emily n.p.). Furthermore, her education was terminated due to her lifelong health complications resulting from polio. Her family consistently failed to support her, and she felt fettered by the life she was living. Around the age of 28, Dickinson suffered from an emotional crisis which caused her to write prolifically; she drew into herself and her profound mind, preferring to express herself mainly through letters and poems (Blake n.p.).

Throughout the course of her life, Dickinson exhibited many strange tendencies. She always dressed in white and remained a recluse. She refused to leave her home for any reason (Forman n.p.). This was the direct result of her experiencing the death of two childhood friends, as well her chronic health issues; Dickinson often felt disconnected to the world around her. “She was inspired by a world manifesting itself as unpredictable, violent, and terrifying. She had suspected that the world was defective for some time” (Blake 218). Her perspective on her life, as well as her disillusionment from her surroundings, became reflected in her poems. “[Her] work…should be seen in terms of traditions of withdrawal from the world and of her resistance to them”(Wolosky n.p.). Most notably during this phase in her life, however, Dickinson developed an occupation with the concept of death and the possibility of an afterlife. Many of her poems have come to embody her personal contemplations about mortality and death, particularly “Because I Could Not Stop for Death,” (Explanation n.p.).

Primarily in this work, Dickinson effectively uses the character of Death to convey the message that death is not a cruel, cold process. “Death is personified, or described in terms of human characteristics.... Figuratively, this poem is about one woman’s ‘date’ with death. Death is a gentleman,... who makes a call at a home of a naive young woman.”(Explanation n.p.). By representing mortality as a kind, courteous suitor whom the narrator seems to have been anticipating, the notion arises that Death is nothing but an old friend who was always expected to come. It becomes an inevitability; it is not unpleasant in the least. Dickinson envisions Death as a person she knows and trusts:

The carriage holds but the two of them, yet the ride, as she states with...

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“Emily (Elizabeth) Dickinson.” Discovering Authors. Detroit: Gale, 2004. Discover Collection.
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“Explanation: Because I Could Not Stop for Death.” Exploring Poetry. Detroit: Gale, 2003.
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Forman, Robert J. “Emily Dickinson.” Magill’s Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition
Johnson, Thomas H. Emily Dickinson : An interpretation. Cambridge Massachusetts: The
Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1955
Longsworth, Polly. The World of Emily Dickinson. New York: Norton, 1990.
Melani, Lilia . "Emily Dickinson." Department of English. 26 Feb. 2009. 28 Mar.
Priddy, Anna, and Harold Bloom. Bloom 's how to write about Emily Dickinson. New York:
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Wolosky, Shira. “Emily Dickinson: Reclusion Against Itself.” Critical Insights: Emily
Dickinson(2010): 217-240
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